Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jun 2016
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Reevely
Page: A1


Supervised drug-injection sites help keep police officers and other
first responders safe, says a former deputy chief of the Ottawa police.

No, says his former boss, they encourage abuse and addiction and
ultimately support organized crime.

Larry Hill and Vern White are formerly two of Ottawa's top cops. They
know each other, worked together. Their positions on supervised
injection sites, expressed in separate interviews, couldn't be more

Hill was a career Ottawa cop. He worked patrol, the tactical squad,
professional standards, staff jobs like research and planning. He was
head of the senior officers' association before becoming deputy chief
in 2000. In that job, he did a lot of the force's outreach to groups
with which it had difficult relationships, such as Ottawa's gay and
visible-minority communities. He retired in 2008.

White was in the RCMP for 24 years, much of it in the North (he was
credited with markedly increasing the number of aboriginal Mounties),
before being named Durham's police chief in 2005 and Ottawa's in 2007.
He was chief here until 2012, when Stephen Harper named him a
Conservative senator.

Four community health centres, led by the one in Sandy Hill at Rideau
and Nelson streets, are in various stages of planning to add
supervised injection sites to their existing clinics and programs for
regular drug users. On Monday, Ottawa's board of health is to decide
whether to encourage them - as the city's chief public-health doctor
Isra Levy recommends - or stand in their way. Hill plans to be there;
White is thinking about it.

The dominant law-enforcement view is that safe injection sites
encourage drug use, and that's always been White's argument. The drugs
people shoot in them are illegal, sold by dealers connected to webs of
organized criminals.

"I do not support supporting illegal drug activity," White says.
"First of all, that means we've given up. If I follow that line of
thinking, wouldn't the next step be legalizing? I don't support that."

White does support programs that give addicts clean needles, if they
don't give out "hundreds at a time." Those save infections and stop
the spread of HIV and AIDS, which is vastly more prevalent among
injection-drug users than in the general population, along with
hepatitis C.

How is giving needles to people who'll use them to inject illegal
drugs different from giving them a supervised place to inject those
drugs? The senator hesitates.

"I guess for me - In a way you're probably not totally wrong," he
says. "But I have to say the number of AIDS patients we were seeing,
without a needle exchange, was horrific. So I guess I can get there on

An injection site, though, no.

"I understand addicts need multiple avenues of escape. Provide them
with suboxone or methadone or whatever else you want to provide them,
instead of having them buy drugs off the street, from organized crime.
You can do that now. You don't need a permit or anything special,"
White says. "Doctors, do your jobs."

(The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre has a methadone and suboxone
clinic, distributing prescription drugs that take away withdrawal
symptoms, and a needle exchange.)

The idea that we should be urging addicts into treatment is a
smokescreen, Hill believes.

"Addiction is a very misunderstood thing. How human beings are when
they are severely addicted to anything - somebody who's severely
addicted to gambling has to go into a crisis mode and lose everything,
their home, their marriage, before they say they're ready to be
treated. It's the same for anything," Hill says. "It's an invisible
affliction. It's really hard to reason with somebody who's in the
midst of an addiction that they should seek treatment. They will never
- - there's a lot of people who have an alcohol addiction, who will fall
off the wagon 10 or 15 times before it finally sticks.

"To simply say, 'Put people in treatment,' is something that will be
extremely difficult to do."

Hill says he first thought seriously about harm reduction in the early
2000s, when a police superintendent called him for guidance on the
city's plans to distribute kits for crack smokers that included clean

Who deals with street addicts when they're making a scene somewhere,
Hill asked himself. Who attends when someone is passed out on a sidewalk?

"It's the police that will get the first call. It's the paramedics, in
some cases the fire department," Hill says. They're the people who get
stuck with needles, who get blood and spit and vomit on them. "Harm
reduction, in essence, protects these officers. How can I say no to
that, when society has turned a blind eye to marijuana, when it's
going to be legalized probably within a year? How can we say, when it
comes to hard drugs, that we're putting aside the health issues and
dig our heels in on the legal issue?"

Chronic drug abusers live on the margins but nobody starts that way.
Jurisdictions across the United States are struggling with opiate
crises, with addictions that begin with prescription painkillers like
oxycodone and progress to street drugs like heroin when the
prescriptions run out.Canada is second only to the U.S. in prescribing
such drugs.

"There's addicted people in all parts of the city. Couldn't agree
more. But these people are functional addicts. They go to work.
They're not spreading disease from the street level. At least not at
this point - if they keep going down the road to the dump, they'll get
there," Hill says.

Besides that, an injection site gives addicts regular contact with
people who can arrange treatment.

"At least they have access to that information. Right now, they don't.
They're in an alley, there's nobody talking to them," Hill says. An
injection site won't encourage drug use, he argues, it'll corral drug
use in an isolated and supervised place.

I asked each of them to explain why he thinks the other has a
different view.

"There's a couple of things that stick in the officer's craw that they
can't seem to work around," Hill says. "There's an illegal activity
going on. Illicit drugs are being bought and used in the presence of a
doctor, in a legal clinic. They have a hard time getting around that -
should we even be doing that as a society, and as the police?"

A police officer is accustomed to clear rules and safe-injection sites
are grey zones. They're extensions of needle exchanges, which we've
gotten used to but which still make many officers uneasy.

"When the needle exchanges started happening, and it was gaining
traction, officers were told, 'Don't hang around the needle van
because then the users won't come to them.' Police officers don't like
to be told they can't conduct their mission - be wherever they want to
be in the community," Hill says.

White suggests Hill isn't thinking like a policeman. A doctor sits
across from a drug addict and wants to help, wants to deal with the
case right in front of him or her. White gets that, but:

"Our job is not to represent the one, our job is to represent the
many," White says. "I think he probably focuses on the oneĀ… My job is
not the same as a medical doctor. My job, when I was the chief and I
would argue my job now (as a senator), is to represent the residents
and what they want, and I don't think this makes residents safer."
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