Supervised consumption sites, commonly referred to as safe injection sites, have been a hot topic in the city of London since the first facility of this kind opened its doors earlier this year. This temporary site is set to close soon after Election Day, October 22, which means what happens in the municipal election could determine whether or not the planned permanent locations become a reality.
Since 2003, when Health Canada granted an exception to a facility in Vancouver’s East End, safe injection sites have been opened in major cities all across Canada. The Middlesex London Health Unit opened London’s first, the Temporary Overdose Prevention Site (TOPS), in February of this year, and the plan is to keep it open until the end of October. Since its start, roughly 2,000 people have made about 8,000 visits to TOPS.
The facility is monitored by medical staff who supervise injections and provide overdose prevention kits containing naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid-related overdose. TOPS also provides information and resources for addiction recovery services to users.
The site was originally given funding for six months, and the provincial government extended this funding until October 31st. To follow it up, the Middlesex London Health Unit has proposed two permanent locations: one at 446 York Street, the other at 241 Simcoe Street. They will also be supported by a mobile site. All plans still require Health Canada approval.
The debate is generally what impact the proposed sites could have on the community surrounding them, and how they help or harm users of illegal drugs. This discussion comes during a widespread health crisis, as the number of overdoses in both Canada and the United States from fentanyl-derived synthetic opioids has climbed substantially in recent years.
The reasoning behind safe injection sites is that even though the drugs used are illegal, people will use them anyway. For the sake of public health, supporters believe users should have a place to consume these drugs that are off the streets and in a place where overdoses can be prevented by medical staff. Opponents believe that this rationale isn’t in the best interests of community safety or the drug users themselves.
Reports and surveys indicate that many Londoners support the concept of safe injection sites. A London Free Press-Forum Research poll asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of supervised drug consumption sites in London?” 60 percent said they approve; 30 percent said they disapprove; 10 percent didn’t know. A second question, “Do you agree or disagree that supervised drug consumption sites reduce harm from illegal drug uses?” elicited similar responses: 58 percent said they agree with the statement; 27 percent disagreed, and 15 percent said they didn’t know.
Proponents, including several mayoral candidates, agree with the reasoning behind the sites; that taking the drugs, drug paraphernalia, and addicts off the streets will prevent the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS and deaths due to overdose. It’s also seen as a cost-effective way to provide medical and social services to drug users who would not otherwise voluntarily seek them out.
Opponents argue that the sites allow people to break the law and continue their addictions and that the sites will negatively impact the neighborhoods in which they are located. At least one mayoral candidate has come out strongly against them for these reasons and finds agreement among high-profile law enforcement in other cities like Windsor. Still, according to the Free Press even among that candidate’s supporters, the majority approve of safe injection sites.
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