Rethinking supervised injection sites Sites should have been linked to broader city plans

CRIS BASUALDO

In December, a coalition called Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton (AMSISE) proposed four supervised injection sites.

Supervised injection may decrease transmission of communicable diseases and provide better outcomes for people who overdose. As drug addiction affects a wide swath of society, regardless of socioeconomic status and geographic boundaries, supervised injection sites within hospitals or larger community health centres throughout our city (and province) seem reasonable. After all, hospitals or health centres are busy public places with onsite security, treatment beds, social workers, and natural surveillance.

Elaine Hyshka, a public health researcher, is an advocate for safe injections sites. Hyshka was quoted in an Edmonton Journal article as saying she “envisions a network of supervised injection services offered throughout organizations already working with homeless and disadvantaged people in Edmonton’s core.”

She also co-authored a study with AMSISE. AMSISE is a small coalition whose members are the who’s who of needle distribution to street drug users in McCauley and Central McDougall: HIV Edmonton, Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, and the George Spady Centre Society. The study was informed by interviews of users who access the services they provide and concludes that supervised injection should be provided in their own existing sites.

Was this study done for a predetermined result? Seemingly, AMSISE’s plan is nothing more than egregious attempt to bandage the festering wound created by myopic thinking that time and again has resulted in decisions that fail to holistically address cumulative impacts.

Instead, any plan for supervised injection sites should have been linked with broader city plans to encourage development of non-market housing and associated services citywide as well as plans to prevent and end homelessness. Research should be based on sound methodologies and data, and a full impact analysis should be done before moving to the public consultation phase. It’s unfortunate that this seemingly has not been done.

Drug use is tied to trafficking, street disorder, and organized, petty and violent crime. Near existing needle distribution sites in McCauley and Central McDougall are the highest crime rates in the city, where services for homeless and drug-addicted people from throughout the region are concentrated.

Yet these are also traditional residential neighbourhoods occupied by seniors, families, and individuals, neighbourhoods with adjacent small business districts. Our current service model compromises public safety, affecting everyone.

The argument that supervised injection sites will reduce the number of discarded needles on our streets is a non sequitur. Streetworks has no plans to discontinue distributing needles but may extend its service hours. It’s not likely to change the behaviour of people who carelessly discard needles. And according to the study, 25 per cent of interviewees wouldn’t even bother going to supervised injection sites if they were more than a kilometre away.

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) “seeks a balance between the needs of those with addictions to illegal drugs and the rights of the larger community to live in a safe and crime free environment. We have to be certain that the needs of drug users are symbiotic with the public safety of the entire community, especially the most vulnerable – children, mentally ill, and elderly.

Yes, EPS, yes!

Cris has lived in Alberta Ave for 27 years. She has been a passionate community advocate for more than 20 years, volunteering on multiple boards and committees of local organizations, resident-driven initiatives related to planning and development, crime and disorder, and family-friendly amenities so that residents and businesses can thrive in safe and healthy environments.

Header image:  A woman who lives near Boyle McCauley Health Centre, where Streetworks distributes injection supplies, often sees new & used syringes. This photo was taken a few meters from the needle disposal box. | Supplied

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