Pubdate: Fri, 13 Jan 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Mohammed Adam
Page: A7


Helping addicts heal is noble, but let's not ignore safety concerns

From the look of things, Ottawa is going to get a supervised-injection
site whether we like it or not. With a supportive federal government
planning legislation to speed up the process for injection sites and the
Ontario government backing a Sandy Hill proposal - in spite of the
objections of Mayor Jim Watson and police Chief Charles Bordeleau - the
die is cast.

A supervised-injection site may, or may not, be what the city needs, but
we should not let the federal and provincial governments drive the issue.
The city's medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy, once noted that
Ottawa may actually need more than one site, and if this is where we are
headed, we owe ourselves a full debate on the merits and potential risks
associated with such a controversial project.

Here's a question: Does an injection site where addicts can freely shoot
up drugs really help them kick the habit or are we doing this just to show
we are doing something? According to Ottawa Public Health, between 23,600
and 46,900 individuals used illicit drugs in the past 12 months. Of these,
1,200 to 5,600 injected drugs. About 10 per cent of them are infected with
HIV and 70 per cent with hepatitis C. Last year, there were 1,750
drug-related-emergency-room visits. The year before, 36 people died from
unintentional drug overdose. All very disturbing.

The one statistic that stood out in a public health report was that 74 per
cent of people who reported injecting drugs said they'd use a
supervised-injection site if one were available. Many will see this
finding as a strong argument in favour of injection sites. What we don't
really know is whether the addicts who would use injection sites are
seeking a path to a drug-free life or a place to shoot up. Ottawa is a
city of more than 900,000 people. From the statistics, we have as few as
1,200 people who inject drugs or as many as 5,600. Do these figures
constitute a huge problem? Do we need one or two injection sites?

Helping those in our city struggling with addiction is noble. But let's
not ignore the fact that an injection site for people to use drugs safely
could create unintended social consequences. Watson and Bordeleau are not
wrong about their concerns. The police chief, in particular, worries about
the impact on public safety. He fears that these neighbourhood sites could
become a magnet for drug traffickers and users.

Our police force is stretched thin in dealing with gangs in the city.
Resources are not easy to come by and in offering a helping hand to those
of our citizens struggling with addiction, we should be careful not to
create new problems for an over-burdened force. In the wake of the
announcement of federal support for injection sites, the mayor and police
chief gave up the fight. Watson now says it is a matter for the city's
board of health, and, obviously taking its cue from the mayor, the police
services board is begging off as well.

"Right now it's not an issue for police yet," board chair Eli El-Chantiry
said. Really? Bordeleau has spent months making it an issue and suddenly
it's not? Actually, there's no better time than now to debate and resolve
any outstanding issues - especially any that law enforcement might have -
before we take the plunge.

Let's not assume anything; let's not make decisions on emotion and most
certainly let's not do this because others are doing it. No doubt some of
our citizens have problems that require help. The disagreement is over the
approach we take. If, in the end, we are convinced that injection sites
are the best remedy, let's make sure we understand the ramifications and
be ready with solutions.

So first, let's have a proper debate and thrash out all the issues.
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