Safe Injection Sites: A Solution or Part of the Problem?

Some countries in both Europe and North America operate clinics where drug addicts are able to use substances under the watchful eye of medical professionals. This approach is certainly controversial and has sparked heated debate at the highest levels of government.In many countries around the world, safe injection sites allow addicts to inject (or smoke) illegal drugs under the supervision of trained medical staff. This is a controversial approach: not a treatment for addiction nor drug addiction rehabilitation, but a facilitation of safer drug use. It helps to avoid overdoses and other medical problems related to the consumption of such drugs, but it is also thought by many to “normalise” drug abuse and thereby lower the social and psychological barriers to acquiring an addiction.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that Vancouver’s Insite clinic, the only safe injection site in North America, shall not be forced to close its doors to addicts in need of a safe place to take drugs. The court ruled that to close the clinic would threaten the lives of its existing and potential future users, thereby depriving them of their basic human rights.

"The potential denial of health services and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to drug users outweigh any benefit that might be derived from maintaining an absolute prohibition on possession of illegal drugs on Insite's premises," the ruling stated.

The Insite clinic opened in 2003 to provide safety and medical supervision for drug addicts in the impoverished Downtown Eastside area. There have been complaints that keeping Insite open makes a mockery of laws designed to prevent and prosecute illegal drug use. "We believe that the system should be focused on preventing people from becoming drug addicts," said Canada’s Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. However, since Insite’s opening, drug overdose deaths in Downtown Eastside have fallen by 35%. Because of this great positive effect on life and wellbeing, police and many local officials campaigned for Insite to remain open.

While safe supervision for drug users is undeniably preferable to the risks of taking drugs without medical assistance nearby in case of accidents, it is no substitute for a full course of addiction treatment in a residential drug rehab centre. A drug addiction treatment program is the best way to get clean, and stay clean; it is the only recommended course of action in serious cases of drug addiction.

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