Vancouver has consistently been voted one of the top cities in the world in which to live by the United Nations, but like any thriving metropolis, it has its problems. If you’ve ever wandered around East Hastings street, the prevalence of the indigent, unemployed, homeless, and drug addicts is readily apparent. Which is why in 2003 Vancouver opened North America’s only Safe Injection Facility (SIF), a site where drug users can inject their pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of healthcare professionals who provide sterile syringes. The doctors and nurses on site also provide referrals to primary health services, and provide emergency treatment in the event of an overdose. Sounds to me like a brilliant solution to prevent unnecessary deaths, and ideally, curb drug usage, even if SIF’s exist in a somewhat legal-loophole to Canada’s drug laws. In fact, I think SIFs should be located in all major cities where needed. But not everyone agrees with me, and the controversy is rippling across Canada to the nation’s biggest city, Toronto.
Toronto, a city which could also benefit from a reduction in overdose mortality, is contemplating opening its own SIF, however the Conservative government in the form of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford have vocally opposed the idea. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to shift the jurisdiction of SIF’s from provincial to federal, which will be decided in May. Mayor Rob Ford, who in the past has said he does not support SIFs as a form of drug treatment, told a group of reporters recently, “I’ve never been in favor of safe injection sites.”
The Lancet recently published a study which found that Vancouver’s SIF caused a reduction in overdose mortality by 35%. Prior to the SIF’s opening, a third of all OD deaths occurred within 500 meters of the clinic’s location. However, despite the study’s conclusion that SIF’s should be incorporated in areas with high-density drug users, they remain controversial, especially amongst Torontonians who took to Twitter to voice their opinions as the news broke.
@RichardWriter tweeted, “I think it’s a good idea in the sense it protects them (victims themselves) – can also incorporate counselling / support” and also subsequently tweeted, “Personally, if heroin is being taken I’d rather it were being done where the user is exposed the minimum harm”
@ibisrox agreed, tweeting, “Good idea, the results in Vancouver convince me. it saves Non-addicts too imho!”
@stilez also voiced support, noting the safety aspect of SIFs “better than an alleyway or in public where ppl/kids can see. Afterall, it’s not like junkies think about that.”
@ChrisNovaHA cited the study in tweeting, “Good Idea. Countries who have clinics for drug addicts to inject have less addiction and less overdoses.”
@Westendork tweeted “Lack of services and support doesn’t eliminate use, just increases risk to users/community. #safeinjection”
@Westendork’s tweet touches an interesting point. I think that while the goal of eliminating illegal drug use is ideal, it is a task that no one has found a reliable and implementable solution to. So the route SIFs take, which is to take on the smaller challenges which aid in the larger goal, is a groundswell solution that could lead to greater change. To me, this is analogous to the controversy of putting condom machines in high schools. Many kids are underage and having sex, which isn’t the ideal, but knowing kids, if they want to have sex, they’ll find a way to do it, laws or no laws. So giving kids protection is an ideal solution to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Couldn’t the same be said for SIFs? We don’t like drug use, but if junkies are going to find a way to use them, why not offer them protection in order to curb disastrous outcomes?
Not everyone on Twitter agrees, specifically when it comes to SIFs in your neighbourhood.
@RichardWriter tweeted, “If it were in my road, I might worry about the kind of people around,” and tweeted later, “safe sites won’t deter the urges and the need to fulfil them and thus the crime issue is still there”
@ Al_Iafrate tweeted, “It’s a tough call but it’s hard to pay expensive rent/mortgage and have a controlled smackhouse nearby”
@BradyIrvine tweeted, “isn’t having a safe zone to break the law a stupid idea? Should we have safe rape sites next?” then went on to tweet, “taking drugs is against the law, providing a nice clean place to do it when there are other people in need of shelter who don’t break the law is ridiculous to me. “sorry abused single mom, we can’t make you a meal because we spent our $ on making sure the people who chose to shoot up don’t get sick”
We at Blisstree love a good debate, and want to know what your take is Safe Injection Facilities. Would you want one in your neighbourhood? Do you think it would benefit your community? Have your say in the comments section below.