A safe injection site?
It is good news that a safe injection site has been approved for Ottawa’s Sandy Hill area, and that Ontario has offered funding. It’s important to note that it will be part of an existing drug and alcohol treatment centre, one with a good record on all counts.
The elephant in the room, and not a silent one, is community fear that such a service will attract more drug users and contribute to local criminality. Surveys have shown that this is unlikely. To a bystander, the opposite seems likely – that providing a clean and protected site will take addicts off the street and reduce the incidence of drug use, overdoses, public injections, street confrontations, etc., in the city. It will bring addicts into contact with health-care and treatment services.
One big question for us is why has our government in Quebec been so slow to deal with this issue of street-use drugs, the so-called opioid crisis and the constellation of petty crime and confrontation associated with illicit drug use. Aylmer is far from immune.
When we in Gatineau look at our own health-administration mess, it’s little wonder they seem unable to focus on this problem. This is a cost to us from that bureaucratic mess, another reason to ask Health Minister Barrette to declare health-services centralization a mistake, and go back to the drawing board, since these officials can’t learn from successes elsewhere (for example, in their own backyard, the Outaouais’ rural health centres, before those were decimated by the current rehash of ancient policies). Our health-service bureaucracy can’t deal with new problems if they are remain tangled in yesterday’s mistakes.
As with most social problems, street drugs and prescription abuse are complex and difficult. It is a huge temptation to want to give the problem to the police. But that has not worked – if it did, we wouldn’t have these problems. Claiming the police have been under-resourced for this is not a viable excuse. The problems and their causes are so detailed that simple, one-size-fits-all solutions aren’t solutions at all – they are like squeezing the balloon. The difficulties pop out elsewhere.
My own perspective has a little value: I was university-educated in the USA’s Midwest, now the infamous “rust belt”. In my years, this was a prosperous region – in fact, I was amazed when so many Ohio residents assured me their state could actually survive on its own, it was so wealthy and diversified. Now, it is not only full of unemployment and empty storefronts but one of America’s biggest meth-war zones, with the horrible damage that causes.
Police work has been fruitless, despite their expensive efforts. American social workers now say a better approach is “harm reduction”. They cannot make the problem go away, but they can reduce the harm it spreads across their communities. Ohio authorities see Vancouver’s safe-injection site as a model. Why would we say no to that here?