Sunday, April 30, 2017

Some Thoughts on Safe Injection Sites

A few years ago, when I was still on council, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on HIV and AIDS.  The focus on the conference was identifying practical steps that could be taken to reduce IV drug use, going to the root causes and discussing which actions would have the greatest effect.

Interestingly, safe injection sites were not part of the discussion, because such sites are not aimed at reducing IV drug use, but on minimizing negative effects of such use, ensuring clean needles and safe doses.  They are not set up to put addicts on the straight and narrow, but to mitigate the potential of addicts dying from infection or overdose.

However, some members of council has now decided that they are experts in reducing drug use, and have voted narrowly in favour of investigating how to set up a safe injection site in Prince Albert, to be funded by other levels of government.  Of course, this is not actually doing anything, in an area that is totally out of the city's control.  It matches the futility of telling the province that we don't support the sale of Crown corporations - outside of our circles of control, or even influence.  And in these tough financial times, with deficit budgets everywhere, good luck in getting more than laughter in response to any requests for funding.

This likely comes as another attempt to put some distance from a poorly thought out Facebook post (that was quickly deleted) from before the election, in which the councillor bringing forward the motion said that he was all for a safe injection site "across the river at the garbage dump", and that "we need to stop enabling the addicts and pandering to their every need - the herd will eventually thin itself."  His about-face is interesting, and one has to wonder what caused this change in heart, although he obviously doesn't understand exactly what a safe injection site is. While it might reduce the number of needles in streets, back alleys and boulevards, which is annoying, those needles are only a symptom of a much deeper problem.

It's kind of like expecting that the much-vaunted rehab centre would reduce drunks on the street.  What it has done is give them someplace else to sleep rather than in police cells, which is a good thing, but six days isn't nearly long enough to cure a drinking problem.

So, what did I learn at the conference that council could actually take action on?  Not surprisingly, it's similar to other recommendations for reducing crime - improve housing, and crime rates (and drug use) go down.  Could council take steps to improve housing standards in rental units?  Yes.  Why don't they?  Because it's not a fast solution, nor is this kind of long-term project much for grabbing headlines.

And I may be a cynic, but the timing of this motion, after being kept in abeyance for a couple of months, makes one wonder if the attempt was one of misdirection to distract people from other headlines the councillor has been  making lately.  My experience is that people aren't that easily distracted - as always, focusing on doing your job should be where members of council's energy goes, not on trying to manage their headlines.

"Guilt leads to righteous action, but rarely is it the right action." - Abraham Verghese

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