When natural concern for neighbourhood safety and cleanliness turns into irrational pronouncements and wild fears, the record needs to be set straight. Montreal's public-health department wants to set up three supervised-injection facilities. One would be in a community health clinic called Cactus Montréal, which already provides clean needles to addicts in the downtown area. But a coalition of downtown residents, opposing the addition of supervised injections, says it's "worried about the honey pot effect. People will come from Boston and Vancouver and say, 'Hey, let's go for a trip and shoot up.'"
This idea of addicts being drawn to distant supervised-injection clinics is pure fantasy. This fantasy prevents people from seeing that the clinics actually contribute to the safety and cleanliness of their neighbourhoods, rather than making matters worse.
Researchers have found that fewer used syringes were left on the ground in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where children might pick them up and accidentally stick themselves, after that neighbourhood's facility, called Insite, opened. Fewer people injected drugs in public. Who uses those clinics? People who are homeless or barely housed. These clinics do not make heroin use seem chic or attract heroin tourism. Far from it - they medicalize heroin use, show it for the desperate illness that it is.
Montreal's Mayor, Gérald Tremblay, prefers to put supervised-injection facilities in hospitals. It's not a bad idea - it would contribute to the medicalization of the problem - but it would almost certainly not reach as many addicts as a community clinic. He complains that the neighbourhood around Cactus is overloaded with homelessness and other problems. Right. And that's why the clinic is a good idea. The drug addicts are already there. They will inject, safely or unsafely. Better to give them a safer option.
Several European countries go much farther - they give addicts heroin, at community clinics. They have not found those clinics to be bringing harm to neighbourhoods. The Montreal clinics, by contrast, would simply allow for a nurse's supervision, in case of overdose. The ultimate goal, shared by all, is a safer community, and the clinics help.
Globe and Mail
March 5, 2012