My response: “SCS a ‘house of horrors’”

People opposed to the supervised consumption site choose to perpetuate myths and falsehoods because their feelings are more important to them than the facts are.

The Lethbridge Herald is on a roll this month with all the roasts and letters they’re publishing from people opposed to the local supervised consumption site. I already addressed this week’s roasts, but I thought I’d take a stab at some of the letters.

I wrote my response to the first letter yesterday. Below is my response to the second, which you can read here.

The Supervised Consumption Site is, for the most part, not what it claims. Anyone can witness that most of the addicts go in, grab their free needles and other free drug supplies, then leave to get high in parks, playgrounds, the library, etc. The addict then becomes a danger to themselves, leaves biohazard needles strewn about, and victimizes innocent people to get their next hit. That isn’t “supervised consumption.”

I’m not sure that it’s true that most of the people who use drugs who attend the supervised consumption site never actually consume drugs in the SCS. I’d love to see the writer’s dataset for when he observes the usage of the site over several consecutive 24-hour periods.

Even so, we must remember that needle distribution is actually down 70% since 2017, before the SCS opened. Plus, return rates have increased 83% in the same 2-year period. So fewer needles are leaving, and of those that do leave, more are coming back. In 2018, the SCS distributed about 35,000 needles a month. Last year, it was 7,000 a month.

So, it seems odd that the SCS gives out fewer needles now than they did in 2017 or 2018, but somehow, the majority of users just show up to get free needles?

And even if they did, great! The more people there are using clean needles, the less risk there is to the public. There is a lower chance of contracting infectious diseases through shared needles, which means a lower chance of a passerby contracting a disease from a discarded, infected needle—even though the chance of contracting such a disease was already extremely low.

“Supervised consumption” means that the consumption that occurs at the site is supervised. It doesn’t mean that all consumption in Lethbridge must be supervised.

The SCS claim they “save lives.” Giving an addict supplies to consume a toxic substance, reviving them, then repeating this horrific process until their body and mind totally destruct isn’t saving a life. It’s outright cruelty that one would be jailed for if they did the same to an animal. They would be appalled if someone suggested this process for their own addicted child, yet they have no problem doing it to someone else. To add insult to injury, they profit from it and have the tenacity to call themselves “health-care professionals.”

Saving lives isn’t just a claim. It’s a fact.

Between when the SCS opened to the end of the last month, there were 3,289 medical emergencies at the SCS. Not a single one of them ended in death.

Collectively, the 7 community-based supervised consumption sites in Alberta saw over 4,500 overdoses as of 30 September 2019. None of them resulted in deaths.

Insite, a supervised injection site in Vancouver, has seen over 3.6 million injections since it opened in 2003. None of them resulted in death.

In fact, there has never been an overdose death at any of the more than 100 supervised consumption sites around the world.

Yes, it is saving a life if you revive someone who has overdosed. If you don’t revive them and they die, then that isn’t saving a life.

The staff at the SCS don’t profit off drug consumption. First of all, ARCHES is a non-profit, which, by definition, doesn’t turn a profit. Secondly, they don’t charge for their services, so it makes it difficult to profit of the use of those services.

And yes, several staff at ARCHES are health-care professionals. Literally. They include licensed and registered nurses, social workers, primary-care paramedics, addiction counsellors, and mental-health therapists.

The SCS also claims they “help” the addict until such time as the addict voluntarily seeks treatment, but it is well known that meth and opioid addicts rarely go to treatment centres voluntarily. Every recovering addict states that they only sought treatment because they “hit their personal rock bottom.” Most SCS addicts are homeless due to their addiction, rob people for money, watch their body and mind rot away, and no longer have a fear of death. It’s obvious that these addicts have no “rock bottom” to scare them into voluntary treatment.

Well-known, eh? I’d love to see proof of this “well-known” fact.

Even so, first you say that people who are addicted to meth and opioids rarely seek treatment, but then you talk about “every recovering addict [who] sought treatment”. If they rarely seek treatment, why are there so many who can speak to why they seek treatment?

Even so, did you know that the proportion of individuals seeking treatment for meth use in Ontario nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2017? Or did you know that in Saskatchewan, the prevalence of meth usage reported at admission to addictions programmes increased 500% between 2012 and 2016? Is that how you define “rarely”?

But let’s assume you’re right. Let’s assume that people who are addicted to meth rarely seek treatment. What is the point you’re making? That it isn’t worth it to keep them alive and reduce their risk of disease while they are consuming drugs? Because they will never seek treatment, we should do nothing? Just let them use shared or makeshift needles, then die of disease or overdose?

So even if we had 10 treatment centres, it would have little impact on the addiction rate and addict crime. It’s also why, after two years of operation, and tens of thousands of visits, the SCS success rate is effectively zero. It is clear that the SCS is dismal failure that causes far more harm than good. The politicians involved in creating this house of horrors should show some integrity and resign.

I don’t see how anyone can say that the success rate of the SCS is effectively zero.

In the last two years, they have prevented hundreds of thousands of instances of public drug usage. They have responded to nearly 3,300 medical emergencies. They have made nearly 9,500 referrals to external service providers. They have provided nearly 25,000 medical services. They have made nearly 1,300 referrals to detox and treatment. They have made over 500 referrals to intox.

How anyone could look at the tens of thousands of health services they have provided over the last two years and still think they have a zero success rate is beyond me.

Regarding the claim that it does more harm than good, what harm does it do? It lowers public drug usage, it lowers overdose deaths, it reduces health risks to the general public, it reduces strain on EMS and ER service, and it saves the province money in health care expenses.

So what to do? More policing will accomplish almost nothing due to our catch-and-release justice system. Voluntary-based treatment centres will accomplish almost nothing due to these addicts rarely entering treatment voluntarily. As such, repeat addict criminals should be court ordered with the choice of long-term treatment or long-term jail. Either way, they should not be allowed in society to continually harm others.

I agree with your claim that more policing will accomplish almost nothing. We’ve tried that approach for decades, and it doesn’t work. Heck, the drug crisis emerged under that framework.

I’ve already addressed the claim about the rarity of accessing volunteer-based treatment centres.

Mandatory treatment doesn’t work. One 2016 report found that people who are forced into treatment are twice as likely to die of an opioid-related overdose. Another 2016 study found little evidence that mandatory treatment helps either with recovery or even criminal recidivism. A 2018 study found that mandatory treatment increases nonfatal overdoses as well. Finally, a 2017 report found that people going through drug courts face barriers to receiving evidence-based diagnoses and treatments.

Could you imagine forcing someone with diabetes to take insulin to avoid paying for shock treatment? Or forcing someone to quit tobacco to avoid paying for their lung cancer treatment? Or forcing someone to change their diet to avoid paying for heart disease treatment? Mandatory health care is a dangerous game to play.

Once again, people opposed to the supervised consumption site choose to perpetuate myths and falsehoods because their feelings are more important to them than the facts are.

The naloxone image used in this post is courtesy of Jeff Anderson, and is used under CC BY 2.0 license.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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