Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jan 2017
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2017 The StarPhoenix
Author: Alex MacPherson
Page: A1


Poll reveals few in Saskatoon back plan lauded by advocates

Jason Mercredi and other addictions workers who deal with the effects of
unsupervised drug use say a safe injection site would bring many benefits
to Saskatoon.

A facility where users can inject drugs safely would not only reduce the
risk of overdoses, but cut the province's "unprecedented" HIV rate and
reduce the burden on the provincial health-care system, AIDS Saskatoon's
interim executive director said. "The reality is we need to adopt best
practice, and B.C. has shown that best practice is a safe consumption
site," Mercredi said, referring to the two precedent-setting safe
injection clinics in Vancouver.

However, surging awareness of the hazards created by intravenous drug
abuse does not appear to have swayed residents of Saskatoon, whose support
for a safe injection site is the lowest of any of the 10 cities surveyed
in a new Mainstreet/Postmedia poll.

Just 15 per cent of those contacted by the Montreal-based polling firm
said they strongly approve of a facility in the city, while an additional
23 per cent said they somewhat approve of the idea, according to the poll
released Wednesday morning. By comparison, support for safe injection
sites is strongest in Vancouver, where 47 per cent of residents surveyed
said they approve of the Insite facility and another 21 per cent said they
somewhat approved of it.

Insite, North America's first safe injection clinic, opened in Vancouver's
Downtown Eastside side in 2003, and costs Vancouver Coastal Health just
under $3 million to run each year. A second clinic in the city received
approval to begin operating early last year.

Mercredi said that while it's not clear what form a facility in Saskatoon
would take, federal funding would be ideal because it would prevent the
cash-strapped provincial government from cannibalizing funds earmarked for
existing addiction and health services.

"It might seem like a bit of a (high) price point at the start, but we're
spending the money, just in different ways," Mercredi said, adding that
Saskatoon authorities have been "warming up" to the idea over the last
several years.

Mayor Charlie Clark has said he is "open to having a conversation" about a
safe injection site in the city, while Saskatoon Police Chief Clive
Weighill has said he no longer opposes the idea and is "moving along the
line toward acceptance."

While Vancouver led the 10 cities surveyed in terms of support, with 68
per cent approval, followed closely by Montreal, Regina was the
second-least supportive, followed in ascending order by Calgary, Windsor
and Winnipeg.

The poll was conducted between Jan. 3 and Jan 7., and surveyed a mix of
land line and cellphones.

About 600 people were surveyed in each city.

In Saskatoon's case, the poll is considered accurate to within four per
cent, 19 times out of 20.

Opposition to safe injection sites - 27 per cent of Saskatoon residents
said they strongly disapprove of the idea - is echoed by the Saskatchewan
government, which says it has no plans to establish a clinic similar to
Insite in the province.

"While we are not considering safe injection sites, we do continue to
support prevention and risk reduction programs throughout the province,"
Health Minister Jim Reiter said in an emailed statement.

That comes as a disappointment to Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) Chief
Felix Thomas, a longtime safe injection site advocate who believes such a
facility in Saskatoon would be more beneficial than needle exchanges run
by STC and AIDS Saskatoon.

Safe injection sites are important "harm-reduction" tools because they
reduce the risk of overdoses and diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, while
at the same time discouraging drug use and exposing users to care they
would not otherwise receive, Thomas said.

"No matter what people think, drug use is happening already - it's in our
backyards, it's in our families - and we need to provide (harm reduction)
services to all of our people."
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