Safe Injection Sites: Saving Lives, One Injection at a Time
In 2003, Vancouver was the first city in Canada to open a safe injection site also known as Insite. Insite is supported by the Vancouver health authority, and its status has been legitimized over the years. When the minister of health in Ottawa tried to shut Insite down in 2006, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously affirmed its legality, ruling that shuttering the clinic would have an immediate negative public health impact. Besides providing people with a safe and clean environment to inject, safe injection sites prevent overdose deaths and prevent the spread of disease without causing an increase in the number of drug-related crimes.
Safe injection sites prevent overdose deaths. Safe injection sites are the reason that the number of overdose deaths in Canada has drastically decreased over the past several years. In fact, a study by health info base Canada shows that the number of overdose deaths went down by almost a hundred thousand between 2017 and 2019. In 2017, the rate of overdose deaths was 11.4 per hundred thousand people, while in 2019, the rate of overdose deaths was 10.1 per hundred thousand people (Government of Canada). Many individuals rely on safe injection sites to help them when they need immediate medical attention. After many safe injection sites were closed to prevent the spread of COVID 19, the provincial coroner’s office has reported a 25 percent increase in overdose deaths over the past three months (Mignaca). Because drug users did not have access to safe injection sites, they were not given immediate medical attention, which resulted in an increase in overdose deaths.
Besides preventing overdose deaths, safe injection sites help prevent the spread of disease. Safe injection sites provide individuals with clean needles, syringes, and water (Health Canada). Before safe injection sites were opened, 35% of drug users were admitted to hospital in 3 years, 15% for injection-related infections. Since the injection sites first opened in Vancouver, only 9 % of drug users were admitted to hospitals for drug-related infections. Additionally, according to a study in Lancet and the regional health ministry, people who visited the safe injection sites were also less likely to engage in behaviours that would lead to HIV infections. Hence, Safe Injection Sites help prevent the spread of disease.
Contrary to popular belief, safe injection sites do not increase drug abuse or drug-related crimes Statistics Canada has performed various studies on the rates of drug-related offences in Canada. In 2007, Canada reached its highest point of drug offence rate at approximately 300 in a population of a hundred thousand. In 2018, when safe injection sites were opened in many cities, the rate of drug-related offences dropped to about 225 per every hundred thousand. To further prove that drug-related crime is not increased due to injection sites, research has shown that drug users who frequently use safe injection sites describe themselves as having unstable incomes. According to Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker who co-organized a pop-up injection site, “If there’s an increase in crime, it’s not about the sites. It has more to do with the increase in poverty and social inequality. We put the sites where people are already congregating, using and dying” (CBC News). Besides, according to a study, individuals who used the sites were more likely to initiate detoxing from drugs and access treatment like methadone compared to those who were no using the facility (Gordon). These statistics show that instead of increasing drug abuse and drug-related crimes, safe injection sites can actually decrease the rate.
Safe Injection sites have helped make numerous positive changes in the lives of many families. It is time that people realized that centuries of condemning and neglecting drug users has not solved the issue of drug abuse; instead, it has led to more drug abuse and inequality. It is time people realized that in order to save someone from addiction, they need to save the addict’s life first.