Four years of research lead authors to conclude that we'd benefit from a comprehensive drug strategy that includes community-based safe injection sites.
St. Michael’s Hospital (which currently offers a needle-exchange program for drug users) and the University of Toronto have teamed up to look at whether Toronto and Ottawa would benefit from opening safe injection sites. Their conclusion, after four years of study: drug users are likely to use supervised injection facilities where they are available, the benefits of operating these facilities outweigh the costs, and Toronto should open three of them.
The study (formal name: Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment Study, or TOSCA) looked at drug-use patterns in each city, as well as community attitudes toward safe injection sites and the costs associated with those facilities relative to other kinds of costs associated with drug use (healthcare, social services).
“Using multiple sources of data, we projected that supervised injection facilities would prevent HIV and hepatitis C infections,” summarized one of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Carol Strike, via a press release this morning.
In contrast to Vancouver, the authors write, drug users in Toronto and Ottawa are geographically more scattered, and for services to be effective they need to be embedded in the communities where drug users can be found (rather than trying to send users to one central location). Similarly, the study recommends that any injection sites be integrated with existing organizations, to form a network of support and to ensure that staff at injection facilities can also provide information about social and health services to users.
The biggest concern with installing such facilities is always the effect on surrounding communities. Evidence from Vancouver indicates that this isn’t necessarily a problem, however: according to research prepared for the federal government, there has been no increase in crime in the neighbourhoods surrounding Vancouver’s safe injection site.