Safe injection sites are an ethical imperative, not a political option

Posted on in Health Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
ug. 16, 2018.   By

At a main crossroad of downtown Newmarket is an invitation to take a seat and literally reflect on “kindness.” Ironically, this is the riding of the health minister, Christine Elliott, who last week suspended funding for three new overdose prevention sites in the province.

This week, Toronto Police reported seven fatal overdoses in 12 days, all in the same area of the city where one of the sites was set to open.

The health minister cited a need to review “the merit” of overdose prevention sites despite experts in the field warning that a pause in services could mean “we’ll have a lot more dead people.”

Now that the bodies are indeed piling up, and the evidence remains that safe injection and overdose prevention sites are cost-effective, there should be no reason to prevent these emergency services from opening — except a lack of kindness.

No evidence has been provided for the decision to suspend the opening of the new sites. It appears to be a decision made by the Progressive Conservative government based on values, or perhaps more disconcertingly, their concern with the value of focusing on “saving lives” of people at risk of overdosing.

Premier Doug Ford announced in his election campaign that he was “dead set against” safe injection and opioid overdose prevention sites. Elliott said the premier “wants to know that continuing with the new sites is going to be of benefit to the people of Ontario.”

Given that over 400 lives have been saved by two sites in Toronto this year alone, the question is: Exactly which “people of Ontario” does the government think will benefit from its decision to prevent new sites from opening?

In addition to the mounting death toll, the danger of the government stopping in the midst of the opioid crisis to weigh the “value” of preventing overdoses with upholding Ford’s populist stance on the issue, is the deepening of a public divide around the suggestion that there is a choice to be made about the “merit” of offering people who use drugs timely life-saving support. It is a disturbing precedence, to say the least.

The health minister has the opportunity now, in light of the seven preventable deaths in the last 12 days, to instead help mobilize more people in the province around a commitment to protecting the health and well-being of all of its citizens, including those who are struggling the most to survive every day.

As well, the government could consider thanking Ontarians on the front lines of this terrible form of “chemical warfare” who have been relentless in trying to mount a successful emergency response in spite of numerous setbacks like this one.

Safe injection and opioid overdose prevention sites are a matter of life or death, an ethical imperative and not a political “option.” Any further deaths because of failure to provide these essential services can only be viewed as irresponsible and cruel.

Linda Juergensen is a faculty member of the School of Nursing, York University specializing in public health nursing research.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/08/16/safe-injection-sites-are-an-ethical-imperative-not-a-political-option.html

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