Safe injection sites are necessary for saving lives

Op-eds Opinions

This article originally appeared in The Other Press, Douglas College’s student newspaper, on Dec. 7.

NEW WESTMINSTER—Vancouver is home to the first legal supervised injection site in North America. At Insite, intravenous drug users can openly use under the watch of medical professionals. Absolutely no drugs are distributed, but the site provides drug test kits, sterilization, and equipment such as syringes, allowing for a safer approach in using. Insite operates under a federal exemption from drug laws, having cleared many legal hurdles in the process. Recent legislation passed by the Harper government made it difficult for other safe-injection sites to open, although Vancouver is in the process of opening more in the Downtown Eastside near Insite.

Insite has many benefits to users and the community, the greatest being that it saves lives. Almost 5 000 overdoses have been treated since the facility opened, with zero deaths thanks to medical intervention. In addition, Insite counters the spread of HIV through a safe needle-exchange program. These sites do not encourage people to shoot up: nobody is waving a sign advertising how good heroin is to do. Insite operates in an area with many drug users, almost all of whom would be doing it in an alley, building, or other area without medical professionals or supervision.

In light of the B.C. fentanyl crisis, supervised injection areas are more important than ever. Fentanyl is a drug withnovisibleodourthat’softenlaced within other substances, but is extremely potent, and often fatal. It is increasingly common in drugs around the province, and has led to hundreds of deaths in 2016 alone. At Insite, testing kits that detect fentanyl are commonly used. We cannot track how many lives are indirectly saved through warning users that if they use the drugs they just bought, they may overdose and die.

When we discourage these sites from operating, we are sending a clear message to drug users that their lives do not matter. The issue of treating users in a lesser way because of their lifestyle choices (which, while illegal, have many mitigating factors; addiction is a complex, tragic issue) is incredibly icky on its own. To suggest that the most vulnerable addicts in society do not deserve adequate health care to literally prevent deaths is ignorant at best and downright bigoted at worst.

Our governments owe more credit to Insite, particularly in an area like the downtown eastside. Safe-injection sites deserve more funding and locations, with laws exempting or loosening to allow full operation. With the fentanyl crisis, there is even less of an excuse for saving lives and promoting harm- reduction.Thesitesshouldbeadapted all over Canada and encouraged elsewhere. Many independent studies have vouched for their effectiveness, never mind the many first-hand accounts of preventing a user’s overdose, or allowing for a safer usage session.

There’s no price we can place on lives. The many who fall to drug overdoses, particularly fentanyl, are human beings who deserve better from the community. Our provincial and federal leaders worry about the best way to curb drug overdoses: Insite is the model to do so.