Analysis | Debate over drug consumption sites might be coming to end

published on November 5, 2017 by Aaron Wherry in CBC News

An increase in sites has not been matched by an increase in complaints

In the space of two years, the number of supervised consumption sites approved to operate in Canada has gone from one to 22, plus three interim sites.

In November 2015, when Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government was sworn in, there was only Vancouver’s Insite.

Opioid crisis changes context

“Whereas it took many, many years of advocacy and civil disobedience to establish a supervised injecting site in Vancouver, it’s become a lot less politicized, a lot less controversial and I think there are no really sane actors who are sitting around questioning whether there is a role for these initiatives anymore,” says Dr. Thomas Kerr, a researcher at the University of British Columbia who has studied Insite, noting that temporary facilities have been allowed to set up in Toronto and Ottawa.

The deadly opioid epidemic and the emergence of fentanyl have no doubt changed the context. At least 2,458 deaths in 2016 have been linked to opioid-related overdoses. And, unfortunately, it sometimes takes a widespread crisis to make change. 

As such, it is possible a re-elected Conservative government would have also ended up expanding the number of supervised drug consumption sites. But the Liberal government, while rewriting Conservative legislation around such sites, has at least not hesitated.

The rapid increase in approvals may, in fact, result in Canada being a world leader in the use of supervised  sites. According to a count from earlier this year, the Netherlands had 30 of the world’s 92 consumption sites, followed by Germany with 24. 

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