Group to seek city council support for safe injection sites
'I think we need to be courageous and we need to try something different'
The issue of safe injection sites for intravenous drug users will be put before city council's community and public services committee on Monday.
A new report suggests the sites could be opened within three existing community agencies that already serve people who use intravenous drugs. Another site would be at the Royal Alexandra Hospital's addiction recovery and community health clinic.
City council and the police department will be asked to provide letters of support for the idea of safe injections sites. Further community engagement for the development of such sites will also need to be done.
The report from an advisory committee says such sites could be installed at no extra cost to the city, because they would be located within existing organizations.
The number of people injecting drugs continues to grow, said Marliss Taylor, program manager at Streetworks, the city's principle harm reduction program that works with people who are injecting drugs.
"Two years ago, we had 1.35 million needles, last year we did 1.75 million," Taylor said. "In the first six months of this fiscal year, we went up 400,000 needles over the year before."
Taylor said the safe injections sites are a way to address not only overdoses but the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
"If you look at the lifetime cost of one case of HIV ... it can go up to $950,000," she said. "If we can prevent that by some fairly simple means, that's an incredibly important piece, too. There's a whole economic argument to be made for doing this."
Making the community safer
Such sites would also help create a safer and healthier community.
"The way to do that is not to shut people out but, in fact, make the relationships and to help people move forward," she said. "People can't move forward and become more stable without a certain number of supports."
She said resistance to safe injection sites seems to come mainly from people who don't understand why IV drug users can't simply quit on their own.
"There seems to be a feeling in general that, 'Why don't people just quit?' People are using substances for a reason. People's lives are incredibly complicated. A lot of people need a lot of support to get themselves into a better place."
Safe injection sites are one way to provide that support, she said.
"If we just don't try something new, it's not going to change. I think we need to be courageous and we need to try something different."
Not just a problem for the inner-city
Though injection drug use may not be a major problem in every neighbourhood, it's an issue that affects everyone.
"It may not be an issue for someone in Riverbend. However, we know that people are dying of unintentional drug overdose all over this city. The more that we can reach out or find ways to connect with people in a different way, hopefully the more able we'll be able to save lives."