Six years ago, I wrote about the opening of North America's first legal safe-injection site in Vancouver. Here's what I wrote back then.
Today marked the official opening of North America's first legal safe-injection site at 139 East Hastings St. in Vancouver, B.C. It will be staffed by 16 nurses, four alcohol and drug counsellors and peer counsellors. At the injection site, addicts get clean needles and inject themselves at small booths in a room supervised by a nurse. After shooting up, they go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the streets. Up to 800 people are expected to use the facility each day.
Already upset over Ottawa's plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, this facility has been criticized by U.S. officials who say it is an example of Canada becoming lax in the battle against illegal drugs. Once again, the needle's point has been missed.
Those addicted to heroin are sufferers of a debilitating disease. Many will overdose and die. Up to 40 percent of these addicts have HIV or AIDS and 90 percent have hepatitis C. Allowing people to inject in a clean place and with ready access to medical help will reduce the spread of these diseases and dramatically reduce accidental overdose deaths. This isn't about legalizing heroin and crack, this is about saving lives. "It is not I who become addicted, it is my body." - Jean Cocteau
The Star is reporting that a group of researchers are quietly studying whether Toronto and Ottawa would benefit from similar facilities.
"This is not a study to see how to establish a site. This is a study to look at whether it makes sense to have a site or not, whether there should be one site or multiple sites or no sites, and whether the sites, if there should be any, should be fixed or mobile. We will be answering those types of questions," said Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi, a co-principal investigator of the study and scientist at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital.
The feasibility study, dubbed the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment (TOSCA), was requested by the city. It stems from a recommendation in the Toronto Drug Strategy, which was approved by Toronto council in December 2005.
I feel the same way today as I did six years ago, only more so. That's because I've since seen Hamsterdam. Hamsterdam, in The Wire, is the name of a few uninhibited city blocks in Baltimore in which Howard "Bunny" Colvin essentially legalized the illegal drug trade. There was reduced street crime, city-wide, and increased outreach of health and social services to at-risk populations. It was glorious, until it was discovered and Hamsterdam was quickly dismantled.
Here's a great summary of Hamsterdam.
Call me a left wing nutjob if you will, but drug abusers are sufferers of a debilitating disease and will use regardless. Wouldn't it be civilized to provide them with a safe haven for injection where we can ensure they're safe, not spreading disease and aware of alternative programs?
A city that does so for the least among us is a city I would be proud to call my own.