Canada now has two cities with legal safe injection sites. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced that Health Canada has approved three new safe injection sites in Montreal.
Safe injection sites allow addicts to use illegal drugs under the supervision of trained medical professionals.
Safe injection sites were criticized by the former Conservative government, who said the sites would promote drug use and increase crime rates. The Liberal government, however, supports safe injection sites. In December 2016, the Liberals introduced Bill C-37 which, if approved, would ease restrictions against opening safe injection sites that were enacted by the Conservative government.
Philpott said the safe injection sites will address the growing number of opioid overdoses and deaths in Canada, which is considered a public health crisis.
Montreal’s public health authorities and drug counselling organizations have been calling for safe injection sites for several years, arguing safe injection sites save lives, reduce drug consumption in public, and prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases that can be spread intravenously.
According to a statement released by Philpott’s office, "At these sites, people who use drugs are supervised by qualified staff who can provide immediate treatment in the case of an overdose. The facilities also provide sterile equipment, information about drugs and basic health care and treatment referrals. In many cases, they also provide access to other health-care services.” Three Montreal community associations will run the sites.
The mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, has fully endorsed the new safe injection sites.
With the addition of three new sites in Montreal, there are now five legal safe injection sites in Canada; the other two are in Vancouver.
There are currently 10 other supervised injection sites awaiting approval: three in Toronto, two in Vancouver, two in Surrey B.C., one in both Victoria and Ottawa, as well as a mobile location in Montreal.
Todd Cullen is an intake manager at the Salvation Army in Regina. Cullen can’t speak on behalf of the Salvation Army, but he believes supervised injection sites are beneficial for the community. “Safe injection sites have individuals on site to help facilitate the process. It’s beneficial for harm reduction measures,” he said, adding the main benefit is reducing overdoses.
Cullen also said safe injection sites can potentially lead individuals to treatment. “Harm reduction sites are very good at building relationships with individuals. That’s what allows us to help people help themselves, by building positive relationships and getting individuals to understand that they deserve better for themselves.”
With safe injection sites increasing in Canada, Cullen thinks Regina would benefit from having a safe injection site. “I think it would be a really good thing if we had a safe injection site. There would be less needles in the community,” said Cullen. “There are many good reasons to have a safe injection site in the city.”
As of now, the Government of Saskatchewan doesn’t plan to implement a safe injection site.
A written statement from the Saskatchewan ministry of health stated, “Although there has been an increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths since 2010, the experience in Saskatchewan is not reflective of what is being experienced in other jurisdictions. While we are not considering supervised consumption sites (also known as safe injection sites), we continue to look at the evidence and support investments into prevention and risk reduction programs."