Should we have safe injection sites for drug users in our province? The current Conservative government says they believe such sites aren’t effective and may produce unintended negative consequences for the community.
Instead, they want to pursue a recovery-oriented approach and are promising to create up to a thousand new beds in drug treatment centres. The Conservatives have yet to give a timeline for when this expansion will happen or reveal how much money they will commit to the initiative.
The New Democratic Party has promised to open safe injection sites if they are elected next fall. They call on the government to establish a panel of experts on addictions to provide guidance on the best way to address the current drug crisis.
The two major political parties are offering different views on how to handle the drug addiction wave that is at the heart of so many other problems in our province including homelessness, poverty, and crime. Who is right?
An October 5th article in The Scientific American cites research that indicates safe injection sites around the world reduce the risk of overdose, death, and the spread of infectious diseases. They increase public safety because addicts aren’t shooting up in public places like parks and libraries. Supervisors at injection sites have an opportunity to offer users counselling and encourage them to pursue long-term solutions to their addictions.
Manitoba’s Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard disagrees. After visiting safe injection sites in Vancouver, she doesn’t think they are the best way to help those with addictions.
Interestingly a Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Chabria who went to Vancouver in May to investigate the safe injection sites there came up with a different opinion. The state of California was considering opening safe injection sites, so Chabria’s newspaper sent her to Vancouver to do the story.
Chabria says what she saw there left her convinced safe injection sites are necessary in order to prevent death and disease even though longer-term solutions must be found. Chabria admits visiting the Vancouver injection sites was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching.
Last year I watched a documentary called The Meaning of Empathy. It told the story of the opioid crisis ravaging the Kainai First Nation in Alberta. Esther Tailfeathers a doctor there believes both harm reduction methods and detox and treatment centres are necessary.
That’s also the view of Shohan Illsley executive director of the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network which held a round dance at a busy Winnipeg intersection last week to highlight the need for safe injection sites in Manitoba. She said the Conservative government’s plans for increased treatment beds at some point in the future are a good thing but they won’t save lives today. Last year over 400 Manitobans lost their lives to drug overdoses.
In the United States, only 30% of the public believes safe injection sites are a good idea. In Canada, the rate is closer to 60%. Why the difference? More Americans buy into the notion that drug use is a moral failing while more Canadians understand substance abuse is a disease often connected to inherited genetic factors.
The Conservative government is to be commended for recognizing the need to address the addiction crisis in our province. Hopefully, their plan to increase treatment spaces will be carried out in a timely, adequately-funded way. But it would seem the New Democratic Party also has a point when they say safe injection sites are needed in our province. The funding of both approaches may be wisest if we want to save lives and change futures.