Toronto Board of Health approves report supporting safe-injection sites
Published Wednesday, July 10, 2013 10:12AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 10, 2013 8:04PM EDT
Toronto's Board of Health has come out in support of safe-injection sites, after approving a report that recommends creating a pilot site for intravenous drug users, similar to the one that operates in Vancouver.
The report, which recommended the establishment of safe-injection sites for drug users inside existing health care facilities, was presented by Toronto Public Health at a board meeting Wednesday.
Proponents of the safe-injection clinic say it would help reduce drug-related deaths, save health-care costs and lead to safer communities overall.
Research from Vancouver and other cities where safe-injection sites are established was cited in the report. The research said that the sites are effective in reducing drug-related deaths and the spread of disease.
Tom Stamatakis, the president of the Canadian Police Association, says he’s not convinced that such sites reduce crime.
“Many of the benefits of the Vancouver site, based on the front-line policing perspective, have been exaggerated significantly, particularly around claims around reductions in crime,” Stamatakis told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday.
He says the only reason it appears Vancouver hasn’t seen an increase in crime around its Insite safe-injection clinic is because the police force was forced to take officers out of other jurisdictions and move them into the Insite area.
“The reality in Vancouver is that we had to reallocate almost 100 police officers into a five-block area around the safe-injection site to deal with crime and public disorder,” he said.
Stamatakis argues any neighborhood in any city would see a drop in crime with extra officers.
Toronto City Councillor Gord Perks, the chair of Toronto’s Drug Strategy panel, says although Vancouver police statistics show that the clinic hasn’t led to a reduction in crime, there’s been no increase in property crime, drug crime or violent crime either.
What’s more, he says, there’s been a substantial improvement in the number of needles left littering public parks, bathrooms and alleyways. And, he says, in the other 80 or 90 safe-injection sites around the world, they have seen reductions in crime.
“So some improvements in crime, clear improvements in public health – we save lives by putting these facilities in place – and a reduction in health-care costs,” he said.
But for Stamatakis, the other issue is that the Vancouver site is not doing enough to get drug users off drugs.
“(Councillor Perks) is right: there are successful models elsewhere in the world; we’re just not following them,” he said.
“…We should be treating addiction as a health issue and if harm reduction is part of a holistic approach to dealing with this issue, there should be a treatment pillar that focuses ultimately on how we get people away from engaging in harmful activities.”
Perks agrees treatment is an important component to dealing with addiction. But he argues drug users who go to safe-injection sites become more likely to seek out treatment.
“Here’s the great thing about a safe-injection site: it takes someone who would never go into treatment and gets them into the medical system and gives them an opportunity to seek treatment so eventually they can get off drugs,” Perks said.
About 75,000 drug users in Toronto had access to needle exchange services in 2010. Proponents of supervised injection sites say the clinics also help reduce overdoses by having trained nurses on hand to monitor addicts.
Vancouver is currently the only city in Canada that has supervised drug-injection facilities: Insite and the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation.
The Insite clinic, which opened in September 2003, sees more than 600 visits a day. While there have been dozens of overdoses at the facility, there have been no deaths.
The Toronto Public Health report asked for the Respect for Communities Act -- recent federal draft legislation pertaining to safe-injection sites -- to be withdrawn.
The act, which was introduced in June, requires applicants wishing to open a site to consult with the local community, law enforcement officials and municipal and provincial authorities.
Toronto Public Health says the legislation creates too many barriers, an opinion also held by the Canadian Medical Association.
With files from the Canadian Press