Cops spike safe injection site

Ottawa police under fire for drug stance at policy forum




Fri, February 13, 2009

An Ottawa police officer was booed yesterday for the force's refusal to support the idea of opening a government-run safe injection site for the city's drug addicts.

"A safe injection site is a conflict for us, it leads to legal and ethical dilemmas that would be difficult to remedy," Staff Sgt. Uday Jaswal told a forum on drug policy.

Jaswal said only 5% of the intravenous drug users in Vancouver's lower east side use Canada's first safe injection site because the "orderly, rational setting" doesn't work for them -- they can't follow the house rules.

Crime and public disorder issues continue to be a problem and the clinic has "devastated" surrounding businesses, he said.


"We cannot and do not support the inclusion of a safe injection site. Harm reduction is not treatment. Every dollar spent toward harm reduction is a dollar lost toward treatment," he said, prompting loud boos.

Morag Gray, who lived on the streets and battled drug addiction, stood up to the microphone, her voice loud and quivering with emotion.

"Four people I know died because nobody knows how to help them when they OD'd," she said.

"Work with us, not against us. Don't treat us like garbage. Just because we're addicts doesn't mean we're no different."

There are 70 safe injection facilities (SIFs) worldwide, in six European countries, Vancouver's lower east side and Australia. They provide clean injection preparation tools and needles in a clinical, sterile environment where individual cubicles have two-way mirrors so nurses can observe and monitor addicts as they shoot drugs into their veins. Each cubicle has a sealed drop box for used needles. The sites offer health care, counselling and education.

Ottawa has a huge needle problem, which one of these facilities could help, University of Ottawa researcher Lynne Leonard said.

"If we could build it, they would most certainly come."


Leonard presented her research into the feasibility of building an SIF in the capital. She paid 250 intravenous drug users $15 to interview them about their drug habits.

Her research says an SIF would reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C from shared needles, prevent fatal overdoses and help keep used needles out of parks, public washrooms and alleys.

Almost half of the addicts interviewed had overdosed an average of four times, most in the downtown core.

Many local business owners are opposed to having an SIF in their district, claiming it will drive businesses away and bring even more crime, pawn shops, cash advance stores and drug dealers into the area.


Addicts leaving an SIF stoned are a danger to workers, residents and businesses, they said.

"You have to involve all the stakeholders in this process," one business owner said.



Who's shooting up in Ottawa?

- 72% of Ottawa's intravenous drug users are men.

- Average age is 37.

- 13% are aboriginal (given that only 1% of Ottawans are aboriginal, uOttawa researcher Lynne Leonard called this "a very high representation").

- 59% are high school dropouts.

- 42% make less than $10,000 a year.

- 98% had been homeless.

- The majority began using drugs between the ages of 11 and 19.

- 64% of intravenous drug users surveyed had injected publicly in the past six months -- 84% of them in the downtown core, 18% in Ottawa West (Hintonburg), 14% in Ottawa East (Vanier, Overbrook).

- 43% said they shot up in a public restroom.

-- Injection site feasibility study survey