Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jan 2003
Source: Burnaby Newsleader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 Burnaby Newsleader
Author: Greg Knill
Bookmark: (Safe Injecting Rooms)


The need for a new strategy to handle chronic drug addiction in the Lower 
Mainland continues to grow. This week it was revealed that HIV infection 
rates within aboriginal IV drug users is climbing higher than almost 
anywhere else in the world. Indeed, researchers who completed the study 
found that the epidemic is similar to what's being seen in the worst-hit 
areas of Africa, where the AIDS-causing virus is rampant.

The new findings come as politicians and the public debate the merits of 
injection sites -- where drug users could administer their own narcotic in 
an environment that's a little safer and cleaner than a back alley in the 
Downtown Eastside.

That suggestion has drawn the typical reaction: while some say "safe 
injection sites" are a more humane way to deal with chronic drug use, 
others say they will only facilitate continued destructive behaviour.

That some form of strategy is necessary is something that has been debated 
for years. Indeed, nearly seven years ago BC's chief coroner said the 
province's war on drugs was effectively lost; that something more creative 
was necessary to deal with the number of overdoses and the increasing 
threat of HIV infection.

Today, the death toll continues to mount as the debate continues.

"Safe injection sites" are not the final answer to chronic drug use. But 
they are a step. They won't cure a problem that has far deeper roots than 
drug availability. But, as New Westminster Councillor Casey Cook has 
pointed out, this form of "harm reduction" plays a critical role in a 
broader strategy that includes treatment, prevention through education and 
police enforcement.

Of course, the temptation is to argue for the tough love approach; that 
anything other than zero tolerance of drug use will only increase the 
number of lives lost or damaged because of it.

But that's an argument we've heard before. It's the same argument that says 
making condoms more accessible to young people will only increase 
promiscuous behavior.

That is ridiculous. Providing a controlled environment were addicts can 
administer their drugs a bit more carefully won't encourage further drug 
use. But it will provide an avenue and opportunity to reach these people, 
to offer them support and counselling on alternatives to their lifestyle, 
and ensure that diseases like HIV and Hepatitis are at least contained.

It won't provide the final answer, but it will form an important beginning 
to solving a problem where the alternative has clearly failed.

Greg Knill
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