There is ongoing concern in our communities about injection drug use in public spaces and discarded needles found in parks, alleys, and schoolyards.

In response to this concern, an interdisciplinary team called Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services Edmonton (AMSISE) has addressed public health issues surrounding injection drug use in the inner city.

AMSISE presented its recommendation of a distributed model of medically supervised injection sites to city council on Dec. 5. The plan would locate these sites in existing locations where services are delivered to injection drug users. These locations include the Royal Alexandra Hospital and three other places where services are already offered.

While many people have concerns about safe injection sites, the fact is they have many benefits.

Let’s begin with the location of the Royal Alexandra Hospital. It’s close to most of the parks and schools downtown, which will draw injection drug users away from schools and reduce the number of needles found in our community.

Also, fentanyl has changed the behaviours of injection drug users. Fear of overdose has brought drug use to public areas near health clinics. Moving this use indoors improves the health outcomes for patients and shows neighbours their concerns about public drug use and discarded needles have been addressed. In addition, these sites would reduce the number of needles leaving the clinic and ensure trained professionals handle, use, and dispose of needles properly. Having these sites will establish accountability measures that are impossible under the present exchange model.

Surprisingly, a remarkably small number of injection drug users live in the downtown core. In 2014, the Edmonton Drug Use and Health Survey identified 324 people in the inner city who inject drugs in public spaces.

Yet, this small group  creates huge health care costs. Medically supervised injection services reduce these costs by preventing the spread of viruses and ensuring sanitary injection practices are used.

It is my hope that this is the beginning of a program which will prescribe medication to these vulnerable people. If drugs are prescribed, patients will not have to obtain money from illicit means to support their addictions, resulting in additional cost savings for police, courts, and corrections, along with reduced property crime.

Yes, there are valid concerns of spatial density of poverty and concentration of services. Data supports the geographic distribution of services and housing. Yet, this theory should be applied to big picture issues that primarily deal with density of public housing. It should not be used to obstruct access to medical services.

Our exceptionally resilient community has the opportunity to show compassion and empathy to our most vulnerable neighbours. We cannot allow ourselves to devolve to a NIMBY-ism that ignores data, escalates costs, and does nothing to address the injection drug crisis in our community.

Adam Millie lives in Alberta Avenue. He has lived experience of addictions and recovery. He wants to make the world a better place.

Header image: Supervised injection sites would ensure trained professionals handle, use, and dispose of needles properly. | Pixabay