The Canadian city of Victoria (not Vancouver, sorry) is still dithering over a home for its needle exchange programme: no-one wants it in their back yard. British Columbia’s top health official has a solution: open supervised injecting sites around the city. The cops are not too pleased.
In an editorial in the British Columbia Medical Journal, BC provincial health officer Perry Kendall and colleagues argue that opening up places where addicts can go and shoot up under the watchful eye of a trained nurse will get injectors off the streets. Victoria’s the place for this type of programme for several reasons, they say. Firstly, research (pdf) shows that junkies in Victoria are more likely to shoot up on the streets than in other cities. Secondly, all the key players in Victoria are behind the idea, including the cops.
Perhaps so. But in the same issue of the journal, we get a cop’s eye view of Canada’s only existing safe injecting facility, in Vancouver. In an extraordinary, rambling article that borders on the incoherent, former head of Vancouver’s police force Jamie Graham flip-flops around the Vancouver experience.
Graham says he supports the initiative, known as Insite, because it’s legal.The Conservative federal government has swallowed its War-on-Drugs instincts and allowed it to operate as a research site; results are dribbling out and they are positive overall, although reading through some of the abstracts I can see why Graham implies that there may be some torturing of the statistics going on. Still, he tries very hard to appear to be neutral, even conceding that the injecting facility may have helped clean up downtown Vancouver:
The casual observer might look at Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and wonder if things are better since the opening of the SIS (supervised injection site). They are better—not a lot, but better than they were 5 years ago.
But he just can’t stop himself from telling us what he really thinks about harm reduction and safe injecting sites:
In fact, the focus of harm reduction is actually the worst-case scenario for a drug user—total inability to quit and eventual death. …Police are naturally suspicious about the positive image of Insite. This image is undeserved—what goes on in the SIS is abhorrent.
The solution? More cops on the beat, apparently. If the cops in Victoria are as “supportive” as this, Kendall may have his work cut out for him in opening safe injecting sites in the city.