Globe & Mail: yes to safe injection

May 7, 2008 at 7:46 am 2 comments

An editorial in the May 5 edition of the Globe and Mail repeats what others have been saying for some time. That the Federal government is selectively ignoring key evidence of the effectiveness of safe injection sites:

“Taking the facts as presented, a well-executed piece of policy research on a promising innovation was discontinued for unstated but blatant political reasons,” American scientists Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter write. In a separate, more detailed article, researchers from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS detail what appears to be a deliberate attempt to suppress positive reviews of Insite from being released while its future is being decided.

The editorial concludes:

Mr. Clement, by all appearances, does not want more research. He wants research that conforms to the current government’s antipathy toward supervised injection facilities, and provides the impetus to shut down Insite or at least reject applications for similar facilities elsewhere. In the absence of that research, he would prefer to have no research at all. Oblivious to the plight of addicts who may needlessly lose their lives as a result, Mr. Clement is keeping his blinders firmly attached.

The same day, Health Minister Tony Clement said he remains “open minded” on the subject but will not yet commit to safe injection sites. They are pledging money to Provincial drug treatment programs which is admirable, and TV ads warning families about the dangers of drugs, which is of limited benefit. An article in today’s Globe and Mail reports,

Neil Boyd, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University who researched the most recent federally commissioned report, said his data clearly show the program is a positive one for drug addicts and the community at large.
“In British Columbia, we’ve got the Premier and the cabinet. We’ve got the mayor. We’ve got pretty much most of our federal MPs onside with Insite. The community supports Insite,” he said. “So what the federal government is really doing is saying: ‘No, we don’t like a public health approach to this program. We want a criminal justice approach.’ And I think that’s bullying the province in a way that doesn’t pay them any dividends.”

The Conservatives are afraid of contravening the UN’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs but it’s important to remember that the Convention has an outmoded zero-tolerance policy on narcotics which dismisses many of the most effective techniques for getting addicts off illicit drugs.

In the same issue, Globe columnist Margaret Wente takes a more skeptical approach, noting some of the findings by Minister Clement’s expert advisory committee:

* The Insite facility accounts for less than 5 per cent of all injections in the Downtown Eastside. Just 18 per cent of the 8,000 people who’ve used the site account for 86 per cent of the visits. In other words, Insite’s impact on the area is quite limited.

* The overdose deaths Insite has prevented probably amount to one a year – lower than supporters suggest.

* Insite has indeed increased access to detox and treatment, although by how much and with what results isn’t known.

* It’s uncertain to what extent the site has reduced the number of HIV cases or the incidence of needle sharing. As for hepatitis C (which is spread by needle-sharing), the report found that 87 per cent of Insite users are already infected.

* Insite hasn’t increased public disorder, as some people had feared. There’s no evidence it has reduced public disorder (e.g., local crime, discarded needles), either.

* There aren’t enough data to draw reliable conclusions about overall cost effectiveness/benefit.

Entry filed under: safe injection sites, social issues.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. robertrandall  |  May 7, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Update: Globe editorial writer Adam Radwanski blogs on Wente’s column. An excerpt:

    Just to be clear, then: The pilot project has produced generally positive results to date. According to even this “fair-minded” report, it has no ill effects on anyone – including the surrounding community, which generally supports it. And more extensive research needs to be conducted on how much good these sorts of facilities can achieve.

    Remind me again why there’s any debate as to whether Insite’s licence should be extended?

    Full column here.

  • 2. robertrandall  |  May 11, 2008 at 3:13 am

    Another Insite story from the Globe and Mail today, this time from the perspective of a user and why detox is a crucial aspect of any safe injection site:

    “There have been over one million injections here, in a supervised setting, with no deaths and no risk of transmitting infectious diseases,” Ms. Evans said. “For every dollar spent on Insite, four dollars are saved in health care and other costs.”

    Meanwhile, often forgotten amid all the controversy over the issue of allowing addicts to inject heroin and cocaine on the premises, are the two floors dedicated to detox and recovery.
    Studies have credited Insite’s safe, relaxed environment, away from the hell of back-alley shooting galleries, with increasing the normal rate of addicts seeking treatment.


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