The vitriol of safe consumption sites

Alcohol has a huge negative impact and isn’t adequately regulated

Edmonton, like a growing number of cities, is under siege from a dangerous substance. It hides in plain sight and is often consumed in designated places, under provincial regulation. In fact, it will likely be brought to your Thanksgiving dinners, its arrival celebrated! 

I am, of course, talking about alcohol.

Confused? Only if you, like many citizens, are laser focused on safe consumption sites, and their perceived effect on surrounding neighbourhoods.

The numbers are irrefutable. Alcohol has a massive negative impact on society. According to Statistics Canada and The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), alcohol is responsible for over half of the estimated 400 Canadians hospitalized daily for substance consumption. Additionally, 75 per cent of substance-related hospital deaths can be attributed to alcohol. 

Its reach isn’t limited to direct consumption. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada estimates that 42 per cent of fatal motor vehicle collisions and two per cent of total collisions in Canada can be attributed to alcohol. In 2018, the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction completed a joint study and released a report on the economic costs of substance use in Canada. Alcohol came in first place at $14.6 billion annually, just over 38 per cent of the total for all substances.

Alcohol is also a dangerous substance, but faces few regulations. | Pixabay

There is no arguing that there is an opioid crisis. Irreversible damage is done and families are torn apart by hard drugs. However, if you compare the facts, the impact of these other drugs doesn’t hold a candle to alcohol. 

Remember the economic impact study mentioned earlier? Opioids came in a distant third at $3.5 billion annually, just over nine per cent of the total for all substances and behind second-place tobacco at $12 billion. CIHI’s estimate that 75 per cent of substance-related hospital deaths are from alcohol means that 25 per cent are from other substances. Based on data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, 3,286 apparent opioid-related deaths occurred in Canada between January and September of 2018. That’s almost half as many people who died from the flu over the same period!

We have two very clearly dangerous substances prevalent in our society, but the true absurdity comes from the difference in how we regulate their consumption and manage their effects. 

Safe consumption sites are some of the most analyzed and studied operations in Canada. Nurses are at every location to ensure that those who use the drugs are safe. To my knowledge, there are no consumption limits or hours of operation, but the drugs themselves are not supplied. Focusing on Alberta, the Alberta Community Council on HIV (ACCH) not only reported a 100 per cent success rate of reversing overdoses, but also that the reduction in emergency services actually saves the province $5 for every dollar spent. What organization has a 100 per cent success rate, operating at 500 per cent efficiency? 

The biggest complaint citizens and nearby residents have are of needles and behaviours associated with a concentration of chronic drug users. If there were only three bars in Edmonton, all within a few blocks of each other, there would be mayhem. It is because they are in every neighbourhood that their negative impact on neighbours is mitigated. According to Edmonton Police Service, the number of reports of found needles has dropped and crime rates in the areas surrounding safe consumption sites, while increased, have been basically on par with population growth since 2014.

Meanwhile, alcohol’s only regulations are the number of drinks you can buy at a time and the hours you can consume them in bars. These organizations don’t save taxpayers money. In fact, they are for-profit centres where the government takes a large cut. I would love to provide studies based on their impact on crime, but there are none. Edmonton’s crime statistics only go back 10 years and most bars are older than that. The biggest complaints about bars are noise and behaviours associated with a concentration of drunk people (sound familiar?). However, the response to these concerns is typically met with, “Well, you live close to a bar. What did you expect?”

Opioids are dangerous. Our strict rules and regulations surrounding their consumption save lives every day. Anger towards these sites without measuring the issues and benefits is not helpful. The problem with safe consumption sites is that there are too few and they are too concentrated. 

Meanwhile, our cavalier attitude towards alcohol is getting people killed and wasting billions of dollars annually.


Featured Image: Safe consumption sites help save lives. | Pixabay

Mark Parsons

Born and raised in Edmonton, Mark is a HR professional, writer, artist, and entrepreneur. He is also the founder of Multi Menu Edmonton, a local company that brings the pet store to your door.

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