REALity  Volume XXXV Issue No. 5 May 2016

The well-orchestrated public relations campaign touting supervised drug injection sites (SIS) never includes a discouraging word. This makes one reluctant to crash the party with some unpleasant truths, which indicate that a supervised drug injection site (SIS) is not all it is cracked up to be.

The stories about the advantages of SIS don’t mention their major flaw. SIS ignore the fundamental need of a drug addict, which is to obtain treatment. This failure is based on the belief that addicts are incurable and hopeless, and cannot change, so it is important to provide them, instead, with clean facilities and medical supervision while injecting their drugs. This defeatist assumption about drug addicts is contradicted by the thousands of former drug addicts, who sought treatment, and who were able to return to their families and communities to lead healthy, productive lives.

The problem with the SIS’s approach is that it only leads to an increase in addicts’ addiction. Well off individuals can afford to obtain treatment for their addictions, but, it is the addicts without money or support who are shuffled off to an SIS, where they inject themselves continuously with street drugs.  This results in the addict’s further degradation and, eventually, often terrifying death.  The problem with drug abuse is not solved by enabling drug addicts to use more drugs.

Advocates of SIS claim that they provide opportunities for the addict to seek treatment. The Vancouver Injection Site called InSite, does have some treatment beds, but very few addicts take advantage of them.  This is because InSite is not in the treatment business.  It doesn’t exert pressure on the addict, as it is believed they must make their own independent health decisions.  As if a drug addict is in a position to do so!  Sweden, a very liberal country, has strong law enforcement and mandatory treatment for addicts. Treatment facilities are widely available. As a result, Sweden has the lowest rate of drug use in Europe. It is noteworthy that the effectiveness of treatment is the same whether it was voluntary or mandatory.

Referrals for treatment are also not a central part of SIS, because it must rely on a continuous supply of addicts to maintain its funding from federal and provincial governments. Life-long addiction insures a continued source of income for the SIS.

Advocates of SIS further argue that it decreases drug deaths by overdose and reduces harm caused to addicts. This proposition is based on the fictional world created by the three lobbyists for the Vancouver SIS. These lobbyists are also researchers, and they have produced over 30 studies, all finding, without exception, that the Vancouver SIS is astoundingly successful.

All these studies were peer reviewed only by supporters of drug injection facilities, and, contrary to standard scientific procedure, these researchers have refused to share their data with other researchers so that their studies can be replicated.  As a result of their dual role as advocates and researchers, they have an obvious conflict of interest in ensuring the continued operation of the SIS.

One of their studies in 2011, claimed that since the SIS facility, InSite, commenced operation on September 2003, there has been a 35% decrease in overdose deaths in InSite’s immediate area, compared with the rest of Vancouver, which had decreases of only 9%. This study was discredited by an international team of medical researchers from Australia, the United States and Canada, in the respected British Medical Journal Lancet in January, 2012.

This discredited study, however, was pivotal: the Supreme Court of Canada relied on it for its decision to support the establishment of SIS.

The Government’s Expert Advisory Committee on Supervised Drug Injection Sites (March 31, 2008) found that there is no proof that drug injection sites decrease the spread of HIV and other blood borne diseases. Nor is there any proof that SIS decrease crime in the area.   In Vancouver, between 50 to 66 extra police are assigned to the 12 city blocks surrounding the drug injection site in order to limit criminal activity in that area. Police officers are prohibited from charging the addict with possession and, instead, are obliged to escort the addict into the injection site. The drug addict obtains illicit drugs, usually heroine or cocaine, of questionable purity, from a drug trafficker, which he/she brings into the site for injection purposes. The drug injection site becomes a “honey pot” or meeting point for drug traffickers. According to the Expert Advisory Committee’s report, it is estimated that each addict causes $350,000 worth of crime each year in order to purchase drugs from a trafficker.  

It is also fiction that drug addicts using SIS cease casually disposing their used injection needles. The Government Advisory Committee report found that only 5% of drug addicts use SIS for injections, and, of these, only 10% used the facility exclusively for their injections. 90% of them continued to inject their drugs on back streets, alleyways, etc., leaving their contaminated needles behind. 

A compassionate society must not kill addicts by enabling their addiction, but should instead, reach out to them by both providing generous treatment facilities and encouraging them to break their dangerous addiction. This doesn’t happen when money is being funnelled into self-serving Supervised Drug Injection Sites (SIS).