Thursday, December 14, 2006

Injection site condemned for saving lives, reducing addiction

VICTORIA - Who would think that the most disturbing words I’ve seen in print for years would come from a Mountie?
When people look back on these times, they will be baffled by our persistent stupidity when it comes to drugs. From alcohol in the ‘30s to crystal meth 70 years later later we keep trying to police addictions and abuse out of existence.
In the process we have spent untold fortunes, bankrolled every organized crime group from the Mafia to bikers to Asian gangs and watched as more people suffered and died, more families were destroyed and more communities damaged.
And in all that time the approach never once showed any signs of working.
The disturbing — even obscene — words came in an RCMP report on Insite, the Vancouver safe-injection site.
The site opened in late 2003, Canada’s first experiment in giving addicts a safe, clean place to shoot up. The theory — tested in other countries — is that the site offers big benefits. People injecting drugs in the centre don’t share needles, so they don’t spread HIV and hepatitis and other illnesses. If they overdose, help is near. They can get medical care. If they’re ready to try quitting, they can be referred to services.
And they aren’t sticking needles in their arms on the street, a significant benefit to neighbours and nearby businesses.
It has worked. More than dozen serious research studies have looked at Insite’s impact. They’ve been reviewed by independent scientists and published in The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine and other journals. The site has increased the chance addicts will decide to try treatment. It has cut the spread of deadly diseases and saved lives. Street problems are reduced.
And there is no evidence that it has increased drug use, which is not surprising. People are not going to go say, “hey, a safe-injection site, I think I’ll try heroin.”
But the Conservative government is unconvinced.
Insite’s three-year operating certificate was up for renewal this fall. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he didn’t have enough information to make a decision, despite the research and the support from Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, Premier Gordon Campbell, Vancouver police and public-health officials.
The federal government refused to renew Insite’s operating certificate, instead giving the site a temporary reprieve until the end of next year. The prime minister said he wanted more research (then his goverment cut off research funding). Harper said he especially wanted to hear from the RCMP.
Peter O’Neil of the Vancouver Sun made a freedom of information request for RCMP documents on Insite. He found that the Mounties’ regional co-ordinator for drugs and organized crime awareness had prepared a negative report.
There were no statistics or analysis in the three-page document, just opinion. The RCMP doesn’t actually patrol the area where the site is located.
And the report didn’t provide any evidence to challenge the studies showing the site has resulted in more people seeking treatment and saved lives.
In fact, the RCMP argues, the fact that the site saves lives might be a bad thing.
''The RCMP has concerns regarding any initiative that lowers the perceived risks associated with drug use," the report says. 'There is considerable evidence to show that, when the perceived risks associated to drug use decreases, there is a corresponding increase in number of people using drugs.”
Stop and think what those two sentences say.
The RCMP “has concerns” about a safe-injection site or any other measure that makes drug use less dangerous.
If someone’s daughter gets AIDs, or someone’s father dies in an alley, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, says our national police force. More deaths and illness might deter others from doing drugs.
It’s cruel and stupid, especially as people have been dying for years and drug use continues.
Safe-injection sites save lives, reduce addiction and make the community safer.
And those, apparently, are seen as bad things by the RCMP and the Harper government.
Footnote: The safe-injection site has been criticized by U.S. drug officials. And reports this week revealed the Harper government has been consulting U.S. government officials on its new drug policy, holding meetings between “various senior-level meetings between U.S. officials and ministers/ministers’ offices.” It would a be a tragedy if Canada followed the disastrously expensive, ineffective U.S. approach.


Dave Macmurchie said...

Do you suppose this "report" was produced by the same RCMP research group that handled the Arar file?

It seems to have all the earmarks: say what you think your superiors want to hear, without regard for the facts, and be sure to say it behind closed doors.

Anonymous said...

I would not characterize myself as anti establishment but I'm afraid that the RCMP has an awful lot of work to do before I believe they deserve any credibility at all. And any government that will allow policy to be developed strictly on the basis of advice from them would probably be cutting their own throats, forgetting that the electorate is not only becoming tired of the lies surrounding drug abuse, but anxious for improved management of the dilemma which involves us all. But since when has scientific evidence been accepted as proof by Christian fundamentalists and right ring ideologues?

Anonymous said...

Safe-injection sites save lives, reduce addiction and make the community safer.

Paul, I respect your writing, but I fundamentally disagree with the above. Addiction deaths are actually up since the opening of the safe injection site, and there is zero evidence to suggest that addiction is down. There's also zero evidence to suggest that the community is any safer. Just ask the Vancouver City Police about the stats on thefts from automobiles. Auto break ins to steal loose change, CDs, etc. are done almost exclusively to feed drug habits, and those are way up.

The safe injection site is a failed social experiment. I understand why people wanted to believe in it, but the fact is that it has done nothing to solve the problem, and has arguably made it worse. Even its supporters who try to spin its success will reluctantly tell you that it hasn't yet had the impact they had hoped. Chuck Doucette got it right, and anyone who thinks otherwise should take a walking tour of the Downtown Eastside, including the area right outside the taxpayer sponsored shooting gallery.

Anonymous said...

I do recall when the first needle exchange was started in Vancouver. a couple of cops hung around to see who was going in and coming out. the Mayor at the time was informed and that surveillance stopped. All those studies by heavy duty authorities seem to cut no ice with this one Mountie. Does he have an studies to prove anything? Of course noit. he just KNOWS he is right
A previous poster says all the bad things have gotten worse. maybe he's the Mountie because everyone else things its working. The present mayor, the last two mayors say other wise. The Mayor of Victoria has been lobbying for such a site here. he draws the same conclusions that Paul, the real experts and even a lowly peasant like Me say. Get back on your horse Sgt Preston and go chase the mad trapper some more. Might be able to tie some of the breakins to the lack of housing for the poor living on the streets? Maybe shutting down some all night pawn shops might help. maybe another safe injection site properly funded would as well. If Steve Boy decides to run on this one's cop opinion he is dumber than he looks

Anonymous said...

When the population of the USA has 7% of the population on parole, probation due to drug infractions and 1% of it's total population in jail, we need to realise that this punitive approach to drugs theroug only drug enforcement is not working. More cops will not stop the growth. Only a change in social values, and decriminalisation.Less people are smoking because it is not socailly acceptable.Who would have thought we would not have smoling in retaurants 20 years ago.

Dwan Steele said...

"Cruel and stupid" - exactly.

Shame on the Mounties!

Anonymous said...

I read soemwhere that a FOI request was being started to see if the cops actually had some piece of paper that is more powerful than all the studies that have been so wel documented. so a mountie doesn't like drug addicts, and that makes him an expert? I think not.

Harrison said...

Do any of you people have any evidence to prove ANYTHING? It seems that we're all arguing and saying, "Statistics say," but I have yet to see anybody show me any official statistics one way or the other that weren't horribly, horribly biased or based on some terribly quantiative analysis. Can someone point me in the right direction to a study that isn't utter B.S.?