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Before You Inject Drugs Unsafely

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Updated March 22, 2012

Safe injecting sites are an approach to harm reduction, in which people can go to a safe place to inject drugs and connect with a variety of services. "Safe injection" remains controversial, as people question whether this is the right approach to tackling the problem of drug use in our communities.

Where Are They?

Safe injection sites, also known as drug consumption rooms (DCRs), safe injection rooms, and supervised injection sites/facilities/centres, began in Europe in the 1980s. They now exist in cities in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Australia. The first safe injection site in North America, Insite, began operating as a pilot project in Vancouver, BC in 2003, and was recently given the go-ahead to remain open, after a Supreme Court battle with the federal government.

The Argument For Safe Injection Sites

Several research studies have shown that safe injection sites have advantages for drug injectors and for the community, including a reduction in many of the harmful aspects of drug use on the individual (spread of infections, risk of overdose) and to society (drug-related crime, public exposure to drug injecting paraphernalia), as well as positive benefits (increase in education about safety among injectors, more drug users accessing treatment and other services). Extensive research has been conducted at Insite in Vancouver, with positive results.

The Argument Against Safe Injection Sites

Critics have argued against the introduction of safe injection sites, largely based on the principle that drug addiction is wrong, and should not be condoned in any way. The political focus on reducing harm to drug users deflects the focus from where it belongs, which is on the prevention and treatment of drug abuse. Introducing safe injection sites is seen as a step towards drug legalization, and undermines law enforcement principles and practices.

Dominated By Politics

While there have been methodological criticisms of the evaluation studies supporting safe injection sites, and Insite in particular, critics on the other side argue there is no substantial basis for these criticisms. Ultimately, the strong views on both sides appear to be driven by political ideology, and depending on whether the person expressing the view approves or disapproves of harm reduction in principle.
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