On June 6, 2013, the Conservative government tabled amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that creates 20 additional conditions required for applications for supervised consumption services. Entitled the “Respect for Communities Act”, these amendments essentially give police, public safety officials, and municipalities a veto over health services. The tabling of these amendments is clearly an attempt to head off applications expected within the year from a number of Canadian cities. Media coverage was swift and mixed. But the both the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association quickly condemned the legislation and chastised the government for letting fear trump sound scientific evidence. Immediately following the release the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and PIVOT Legal Society issued a media release challenging these amendments.
The new requirements will not only be costly and time consuming but they will likely prevent the expansion of these much-needed services. The intention of the legislation seems to be to give a broad range of community members an opportunity to comment on any proposal to create a service. There’s a sense of grievance in the government’s press releases that somehow communities have been excluded from playing a role in deciding the fate of these services. It seems ironic given the heavy-handed approach used by the Harper government, that suddenly they care about what communities think. What’s more likely is that they care about what the opponents of these services think. Of course communities should play a part in these discussions. But we can’t let one group of people, guided by fear and ignorance, prevent the implementation of life-saving and cost-effective services.
No sooner had the legislation been tabled than an email blast from the Conservative Party to its members whipped up fears about supervised consumption services. Entitled “Keep heroin out of our backyards”, the CP missive uses language like “do you want a supervised drug consumption site in your community”. Clearly this is an attempt to stir up opposition to these life-saving services and to the people who use these services. Do they not realize that the “addicts” they fear so much are potentially their family and friends? We need to stop treating substance use as an “us” and “them” issue. At some point in our lives, many of us have been, or will be, touched by drugs and alcohol.
In the last 20 years, supervised injection services (SIS) have been integrated into drug treatment and harm reduction programs in Western Europe, Australia and Canada. These services grew out of the recognition that low-threshold, easily accessible programs to reduce the incidence of blood-borne pathogens were effective and cost efficient. Since 2003, the city of Vancouver has been the location of a rigorously evaluated and highly successful stand-alone supervised injection site (SIS). More than 30 peer-reviewed studies describing the impacts of Insite indicate that it has several beneficial outcomes. The service is used by the people it was intended to serve, which includes over 10,000 clients. It is being used by people who would otherwise inject drugs in public spaces. Insite has reduced the sharing of needles and provided education on safer injecting practices. Insite has promoted entry into treatment for drug dependence and has improved public order. It has also been found to reduce overdose deaths and provide safety for women who inject drugs.