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Shooting Up Safely?

Jerico Espinas, Contributor

Recently, researchers have submitted a proposal calling for three safe injection sites in Toronto and two in Ottawa. Ahmed Bayoum from the St. Michael’s Hospital, and Carol Strike with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, are advocating for the creation of Ontario injection sites after the Supreme Court ruled to keep Vancouver’s Insite program operational. These safe, supervised injection sites would be built near or within already-established public health centers, and will be open for public use. They would also be spaced far way from each other in order to accommodate each city’s widespread drug-using population.

Vancouver’s Insite program, which will act as a model for Ontario’s own injection sites, was the first of its kind in North America. The philosophy behind safe injection sites is that users are safer in a clean, supervised clinic is much healthier than anywhere else. These sites intend to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, which can be passed from one person to another by sharing needles. They also aim to reduce incidences of overdose.

At these centres, drug users are given a free, clean needle kit. Afterwards, they are brought to a supervised room where they can ride out their high without harming themselves or those around them. Insite has been operational since 2003, with minimal changes to this routine.

Ever since its creation, Insite has seen nothing but success in its intended goals. The Canadian Public Health Association has stated: “The results of more than 50 peer-reviewed scientific articles provided irrefutable evidence that [Insite] has a positive impact on the health of the people who use its services and a positive impact on the surrounding community.” The Supreme Court of Canada has also showed support of safe injection sites when the Justices voted unanimously to keep Insite operational in the landmark 2011 case.

And yet, the mayors of both major cities are resolutely against the creation of safe injection sites. Police chiefs and municipal politicians are in support of their mayors. Despite numerous scientific articles stating otherwise, these community leaders are concerned that these sites will spark further violence and illegal activities.

When asked about the possible creation of safe injection sites, Arts student Colleen Dunets was against the idea from the start. “Creating sites where drug-users can congregate sounds dangerous, if you ask me. All those people shooting it up in one place – it’s bound to cause trouble eventually.”

When confronted with the success of Vancouver’s Insite program, Colleen was still adamant about her position. “Vancouver has a little over half a million people. Toronto has 2.5 million. It’s not a fair comparison, even with three sites.”

There are some, however, who remain hopeful about the idea.

“If we can at least get them off the street, that’s a good enough reason for me,” says Aaron Perreia, Life Science student. “At least then you’ll know where they are, instead of being suspicious whenever you’re walking down a sketchy street.”

Regardless of the cities’ decision, the site cannot be created with the McGuinty government refusing to back the proposal. The sites still need the federal government’s approval in order to be exempt from Ontario drug laws.


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