Governments signal their priorities through money, not words. There is no clearer evidence of this than in the recent budget unveiled by the federal government. Provincially, this pattern also holds true. Talk is cheap and funding fuels action that in the case of substance use, translates into lives saved.
It has rested on the shoulders of donut shops and small businesses to fund life-saving, essential services — services that the government should be supporting without hesitation. This is a gross dereliction of responsibility on the part of the provincial government.
Substance use does not operate on a 9-5 schedule like the rest of society. Frontline harm reduction organizations like Prairie Harm Reduction are best positioned to know what services their community needs and how to best deliver them.
First and foremost, supervised consumption sites save lives. That is the most important reason to support them. But evidence also reveals that they are cost effective and save taxpayers money. According to one study, Insite in Vancouver saves more than $6 million a year by preventing HIV infection and the transmission of other blood-borne infections. Therefore, we must conclude that the decision to deny funding is fuelled by something other than fiscal prudence.
Furthermore, supervised consumption sites make communities better for everyone — not just the clients who avail themselves of the life-saving services, which is the most important factor. Insite, for example, was associated with less public substance use and fewer discarded needles after opening. This finding was also echoed in research from Germany and Switzerland. Research from Australia indicates that there is no evidence of increased rates of drug-related crime in the surrounding neighbourhood. In simplest terms: A supervised consumption site would bring substance use indoors and connect people to vital health services and social supports. They are one of the most effective ways to save lives and address dependant substance use and addiction.
Saskatchewan is not unlike every other province in Canada as it struggles to address an epidemic of fatal drug poisonings. With a projected death toll of 411 people this year, which would be a 22-per-cent increase in fatalities over last year, this may turn out to be the worst recorded year ever for your province. We urge the Saskatchewan government to urgently fund the proposed supervised consumption site run by Prairie Harm Reduction.
Donald MacPherson is the executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, a policy advocacy organization based out of Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. He’s also the author of the Four Pillars Drug Strategy and a leading figure in Canadian drug policy.
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