Pubdate: Sat, 21 Oct 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Warren Champion
Page: A12


Vancouver's experience isn't very encouraging, writes Warren

The news tells us the epicentre of opioid/fentanyl deaths appears to
be situated in the urban core of Edmonton, specifically, in the
communities of Central McDougall and McCauley.

The three levels of government created an organization named AMSISE -
Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services. AMSISE applied to
the federal government on May 1 for a waiver that would allow approved
sites to provide supervised injection services.

The rationale given was "the spike in opioid-related overdose deaths
has pushed the need for an effective set of responses into the
forefront for community and government."

There will be two sites in Central McDougall, including the Royal
Alexandra Hospital, and two in McCauley.

In a Sept. 14 email, an Alberta Health official told me, "From Jan. 1,
2017 to June 30, 2017, there were 75 opioid drug overdoses (both
fentanyl and non-fentanyl opioid deaths) in Edmonton." He stated
during that time McCauley had one death and Central McDougall two deaths.

There is no evidence any of these three unfortunate people would have
used an injection site service. The data shows 72 of the 75 deaths
occurred in areas other than where AMSISE wants to concentrate four
injection sites. Ninety-six per cent of all city deaths did not occur
in these two communities. Residents and businesses of each community
have long known the main addictive element in each community is
alcohol. Why is AMSISE doing this?

Injection sites will be used by the most vulnerable population, while
recreational drug users will avoid the sites because of stigma. Opioid
deaths generally occur in healthier communities with little social
disorder and high employment, communities where drug users have places
to live and to ingest drugs. As poisonous substances are added to all
drugs in the future, deaths will continue to occur, mostly in non-core

Do injection sites reduce social disorder? If Vancouver is an example,
the answer is no. In a recent Edmonton Journal article, police
detective Guy Pilon visited Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and
reported, "They are shooting up in the street, they are shooting up
around the corner. There are users everywhere."

In the same article, Edmonton's police chief Rod Knecht observed,
"Supporters of supervised injection sites speak of reductions in
overdose deaths and other harm reduction, but what impact does the
open drug use in adjacent streets, the filth and offensive graffiti
and squalor proximal to the facilities have on the community?"

Central McDougall and McCauley are two communities - each with
approximately 5,000 people - whose plight has been ignored.

AMSISE and government have defined the problem as a health issue for
vulnerable people when it is an issue of community wellness and
stability. Local businesses have their doorways blocked by people
sleeping, begging, or defecating. In this environment, injection sites
seem an unlikely solution. It didn't work in Vancouver. Social
disorder ruined their Chinatown and will do the same here.

Addicts will need to access drugs many times daily. Homeless addicts
and other vulnerable residents quickly run out of money and must turn
to crime to pay for drugs. Does adding vulnerable people into two
already-poor communities help alleviate social disorder? Social
scientists refer to this as creating a crime magnet heavily populated
by drug dealers.

AMSISE should not be confused with an unbiased neutral party providing
an independent, scientific assessment of the drug/opioid issue. In
their May 1 report, they explicitly state their goal: "from the
outset, AMSISE was focused on reducing risks for people who are
homeless or unstably housed and injecting in public."

On Wednesday, we learned the federal government has approved the
proposed concentration of sites. AMSISE will run the sites, and one of
their principal spokespersons, Elaine Hyshka, will be paid to assess
their success.

That means that presently 96 per cent of people who will die in the
future have no access to injection sites, while the four per cent who
live in our two communities will.

I believe the good-hearted citizens of Edmonton want this tragic issue
to be addressed across the city, and not simply in the core.

Our coalition will decide what to do next, including legal recourse.

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Warren Champion is director of sustainable development for the Central 
McDougall Community League.
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