An unwelcome solution

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Last March, those rallying for a supervised injection site in Ottawa brought their message to Parliament Hill claiming a clean and safe centre for drug users could reduce the spread of disease and       prevent deadly overdoses.

Last March, those rallying for a supervised injection site in Ottawa brought their message to Parliament Hill claiming a clean and safe centre for drug users could reduce the spread of disease and       prevent deadly overdoses.
Due to a study by Simon Fraser University released in August, backers of the injection site in Ottawa have a new argument. Comparing the costs of    running the facilities with the savings of preventing HIV and Hepatitis C infections, the study suggested two clinics would cost          $4 million annually to run but save $5 million in health care costs.
The study also pointed out that the biggest obstacle to opening the facility is resistance from governments and police. Why? Because people feel uneasy supporting something that appears to openly encourage drug use. From the time we are young, we are taught that drugs are bad, using them is shameful, and the user should be immediately treated.
Many people, including the mayor of Ottawa, claim the money would be better spent if it were invested        in treatment services. Countless treatment programs targeting drug use and helping users become clean have been implemented in the past, yet they     have had little impact on HIV/AIDS rates while substance use and abuse continue to rise. Should we be promoting initiatives that haven’t provided results?
A program implemented at a shelter in Ottawa provides homeless alcoholics with controlled doses of alcohol at certain intervals daily. Why? It has resulted in fewer 911 calls because the homeless do not turn     to alternate substances for their addictions, such             as drinking antibacterial lotions. This program is less expensive than paying for several ambulance calls a day and the subsequent care needed.
Is a harm reduction approach better for dealing with substance abuse     problems? Harm reduction refers to policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with substance abuse; it’s      a philosophy of addiction treatment through controlled use. Should drug use be firmly prohibited or should it be proactively managed?
Is it not true that       someone must be willing to overcome their addiction before any treatment will   be effective? Criminal   sanctions and rehabilitation are useless in dealing with a substance abuse problem if the person is not ready to overcome it. And let’s not forget that criminal actions and forced treatment are paid through tax dollars! 
Currently, there is only one legal supervised injection site in North America – Insite in Vancouver. The centre provides a safe, health-focused place where people can inject drugs and connect to health care services – from primary care to treat disease and infection, to addiction counselling and treatment, to housing and community supports.
Eleven years after its opening, despite claims it would encourage further addiction and crime, the centre is successful. A report summarizing 15 years of data on the drug    situation in Vancouver says harm reduction programs have helped reduce illicit drug use and improved   public health: fewer people are injecting drugs; more are accessing treatment; and HIV transmission related to drug use has plummeted. And this is confirmed by more than 30 peer-reviewed studies. 
Can we argue with      success?
Allyson Beauregard, Editor