brockpress.com, March 20, 2012

Montreal to open safe injection sites

Despite many obstacles, Montreal has been pushing for the installation of safe injection sites in their city, which would provide a place for drug addicts to safely inject drugs with medical supervision, helping to prevent overdose and disease and encouraging rehabilitation.

The development of these safe injection sites is being proposed as a way to help with the issues of addiction, disease and homelessness that are currently pervasive in the city, and to lessen the corresponding strain on the healthcare system. Montreal has proposed three such sites throughout the city to be developed in the near future, the most heavily discussed location at the moment is the established needle exchange Cactus Montreal, which has proven effective since its establishment in 1989. However, since the proposal to open safe injection sites in Montreal, the sites have faced controversy from citizens who are concerned about the effects such sites will have on their city, and the overall effectiveness of the program.

The benefits associated with safe injection sites, however, have already been strongly demonstrated for the past several years through the success of Vancouver’s Insite – an established safe injection site co-run by Vancouver Coastal Health and the Portland Hotel Society (PHS). Chris Vandenberg, Brock graduate and Mental Health Worker for the PHS, explained the many benefits that come from the program, in terms of helping their patients find rehabilitation.

“As a part of PHS Community Services, Insite allows addicts to be connected with medical care, subsidized and supportive housing, mental health support, food, clothes and of course, detox and rehabilitation beds,” Vandenbergsaid. “Injection sites work by connecting addicts with the health care system and building relationships that are free from stigma […] this relationship building makes Insite users 30 per cent more likely to engage in addiction treatment.”

Aside from the help that the program provides patients, Vandenberg stressed that the site has had benefits both for the overall population, and the community of Vancouver itself. In terms of the overall population, he explained that it relieves stress from healthcare, as “the site keep addicts healthy, which in turn saves lives while relieving a financial burden from the health care system”. Vandenberg also explained the impact that he has seen specifically in the community of Vancouver.

“It is impossible to walk around in an Insite t-shirt without people stopping to tell you how grateful they are for the improvements that Insite has provided to the community,” he said. “[Insite] lowers the amount of people sleeping on the streets and prevents crimes that are motivated by poverty[…] the number of public injections and the amount of drug-related litter like dirty needles has been drastically reduced as well.”

In response to the controversy that the Montreal clinics are currently facing, Vandenberg explained that Insite faced a lot of similar controversy in its beginning. However, he also said that he has seen a large change in perspective in some of the communities that were initially most resistant towards Insite, showing some hope for similar concerned citizens in Montreal.

“Surrounding communities that initially didn’t support Insite have now thrown their support behind us,” he explained. “Residents of Chinatown, the neighbourhood immediately south of the Downtown Eastside [where Insite is located], were worried at first. But after seeing a decline in people using drugs in their back alleys, and [less] dirty needles being left in their storefronts, they began to support what Insite was doing.”

Safe injection sites in Montreal are coming closer to fruition. Currently, debates over whether to locate them in existing health service institutions or give them separate buildings are on the forefront, rather than simply debates about whether or not to open them. Any worried citizens need only to look at the increasing success and acceptance of Insitein Vancouver to see the positive impacts that a safe injection site is capable of achieving.

In terms of location, the push to have new clinics located in independent, separate buildings is facing great opposition. The Globe and Mail reports that Montreal’s mayor, Gérald Tremblay, will only support opening clinics in pre-existing hospitals and institutions. Vandenberg explained how this type of clinic could be less effective.

“I would recommend community clinics, as these clinics become places of empowerment, like a community centre, within drug-ridden neighbourhoods,” he said. “They provide strength and support to members of the community, one community at a time, while bettering the surrounding areas by making them safer and cleaner.”

Overall, Vandenberg encouraged people to do some research before forming opinions on safe injection sites. He explained that the Brock database and other collections of peer-reviewed journals offer education articles with facts that help form a better opinion of safe injection sites.

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