Pubdate: Wed, 16 Mar 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Page: A12


Any solution to the numerous problems associated with the injection 
of illegal drugs is bound to be imperfect. In a perfect world, no one 
would be abusing intravenous drugs. But in the messier reality we 
inhabit, people are overdosing and dying in disturbing numbers while 
communities are degraded by the consequences of a look-away, 
not-my-problem approach to drug use.

Three health centres across downtown Toronto are planning to open 
supervised injection programs, providing what is described as a safe 
and hygienic environment where addicts can inject powerful, illegally 
obtained drugs such as heroin and fentanyl under a nurse's watchful 
eye. The city's medical officer of health is strongly supportive. So 
are others across the country. So is the federal government.

There is bound to be opposition to any health strategy that seems to 
condone and enable illicit drug use, particularly when integrated 
into a storefront neighbourhood setting.

Supervised injections sites won't make drug abuse disappear. They may 
not even cut addiction rates. But they promise to cut the number of 
overdoses and deaths while reducing broader social and medical 
problems created by a more half-hearted engagement. They are harm 
reduction, which is possible, not harm elimination, which is not.

In 2013 in Toronto, 123 people died from accidental overdoses of 
opiates, a 300-per-cent increase since 2004. These numbers are likely 
to fall when drugs are taken in a controlled health-care environment. 
Once again, you needn't like the fact that people addicted to drugs 
are shooting heroin in a publicly supported setting to prefer a 
solution where they continue to live rather than die an unneeded 
death. The goal is not to normalize or celebrate heroin addiction. It 
is to keep users alive so they at least have a shot at treatment and 
overcoming their condition.

Supervised injection sites may also offer significant public 
benefits. New, sterile needles prevent the spread of hepatitis C and 
HIV, both of which are prevalent among intravenous drug users. It 
will also limit the danger of discarded needles in public places.

Last year in Toronto, 80 clinics gave out 1.9 million needles to 
addicts - and then told them to find somewhere else to shoot up. Does 
that sound like the best approach? A supervised injection site means 
fewer users discarding dirty syringes in restaurant washrooms, parks 
and alleyways. That's better for addicts and for society. This public 
health initiative deserves public support.
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