Why Saskatoon needs a safe injection site

By in Opinions

While data shows that Saskatoon residents have divided opinions on building a safe injection site in the city, we should be looking at the fact that safe injection sites are proven to work for those most affected by intravenous drug use — the users themselves.

According to a January 2017 poll conducted by Mainstreet and Postmedia services, the majority of people in Saskatoon are opposed to building a safe injection site in the city. Of those that were surveyed, 41 per cent were against a safe injection site, while 38 per cent were in favour.

The poll, conducted on Jan. 3-4, used a random sample of 600 Saskatoon residents, and has a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.kelsey-philipchuk

For those that aren’t familiar with the term, a safe injection site — or a supervised injection site — is a legal, medically supervised facility that aims to reduce the harms of intravenous drug use.

Typically run by nurses, social workers and other public health providers, safe injection sites provide a variety of services to drug users, ranging from sterilized needles to counselling support.

Canada is currently home to two safe injection sites, both located in Vancouver’s downtown eastside — an area famous for its epidemic level of intravenous drug usage. While Saskatoon definitely isn’t Vancouver, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own issues related to intravenous drug usage.

Saskatchewan continues to lead the country in new reported cases of HIV, with an infection rate two times higher than the national average. Our HIV infection rates are comparable to areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Hepatitis C infection is also a major issue in Saskatchewan.

The leading cause of new cases of HIV and hepatitis C in Saskatchewan? Intravenous drug usage.

Indigenous populations are particularly at risk when it comes to both IV drug usage and HIV infection rates. With one of the highest Indigenous populations in Canada, Saskatchewan needs to consider this when approaching drug addiction treatment and prevention.

The Saskatoon Tribal Council currently operates a needle exchange on 20th Street in downtown Saskatoon that offers many of the same services that a safe injection site would offer: counselling, clean needles and medical assistance. Resources are limited, however, and the STC can only do so much for such a large issue. If more can be done, it absolutely should be.

Safe injection site aren’t things that can or should be built impulsively. They require substantial public funding, proper staffing and expertise. They’re certainly an investment and one that should be considered carefully. There are reasons to be methodical and cautious.

The thing is, if we’re putting at-risk populations first, safe injection sites work. According to Maclean’s, as of 2015 — 12 years after the establishment of Vancouver’s Insite — the area surrounding the facilities had seen a 35 per cent decrease in overdose deaths and the facility itself has never seen a death on site.

Additionally, intravenous drug users who injected at Insite on a regular basis were 30 per cent more likely to seek addictions counselling.

Safe injection sites work. They help to improve the lives of our most vulnerable populations — the ones that have the most to lose and almost certainly the ones that weren’t surveyed on their opinions about safe injection sites.

The numbers are too close for popularity to be a barrier to building a safe injection site. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the majority of people in Saskatoon support a safe injection site or not — what matters is that safe injection sites improve the health and safety of those that use them.

Image: Kelsey Philipchuk

  • Thankful I am Canadian

    I am appalled that you would include in the title, “I don’t care what old people think”. Old people indeed. Who says that people of any age group are opposed to safe injection sites. Where is the evidence to back up your claim that old people are opposed to safe injection sites? How dare you use a sweeping statement such as this one. Emily Klatt should apologize to the community, young and old, for this statement and at the same time resign her position as a journalist.

    • SweetGrass

      While I agree the title does not fit and should be reconsidered, I think your comments are harsh and rather discouraging to someone who is likely trying to learn the ropes of journalism. Why not say this in a constructive way that helps her learn, instead of making her afraid to ever write again? I don’t think there was any negative intent behind the title.

    • Thankful I am Canadian

      The title is ageist. That is my point.

    • Liam

      So if it said, I don’t care what natives think? I don’t care what Muslims think….?

    • Cid

      I’m just thankful I can take a joke… Which the title clearly is…

    • Thankful I am Canadian

      A joke at the expense of an entire group of people is not funny.

    • Liam

      Read her other title about her hometown. She has a shitass, entitled attitude that makes one shake their head and think why ones tuition is funding this trash.

  • TheSheaf

    We’ve changed the title of this post and are sorry for any harm that was caused by it. It was unintentional and will not happen again.

    The comment section is a place of free discussion on our articles, but personal attacks will not be tolerated. The Sheaf is a university paper run by students and student volunteers who are given an opportunity to get experience with many different types of journalistic writing, which is something we wish to encourage in a positive academic environment.

  • Anika Rae

    As a 19-year-old who is vehemently opposed to safe-injection sites in Saskatoon, it seems you’ve committed some sort of twisted ad hominem attack meets straw man by painting everyone who disagrees with you as some sort of backwards old man who wants Indigenous Canadians to suffer, and by poorly representing the concerns of those who oppose safe-injection sites. I understand this is your opinion, but as I’m sure you know, there are numerous individuals who have committed their livelihood to advocating for these sites, and you have done them absolutely no favours in this article.

    • Ibrahim Moisus

      What a clever way of attacking the article without addressing any of its points.

    • FleurDeLibre

      I disagreed with the original title, but nevertheless you’re off your rocker for being.. oh yeah, “vehemently opposed to safe-injection sites in Saskatoon”.

      What is your reason for that? You’d prefer not to utilize a service that has been proven many times over to effectively decrease STI spread through dirty needles? You don’t like the idea of government dollars “supporting drug addiction”, even though help and supports are just what’s needed to get those people off of drugs? And even though safe-injection sites will save taxpayers money because they won’t need to get treatments for STIs as often?

      As a health care practitioner, I’m insulted at your opposition. Do some research because these programs would do a load of good for some really marginalized folks who could really use the help. And save you money (as if that’s a necessity along with decreasing human suffering).

  • Alicia Roth

    People are going to use iv drugs whether or not there is a safe place to do so. We might as well make sure they are being safe and getting proper care and resources if an overdose happens or they decide to stop. I think a safe injection site will help lower the rates of stbbi’s (and we need that in Saskatchewan.) Safe injection sites have worked in other cities and they will in Saskatoon

  • David “ZigNasty”

    Here’s an idea. Maybe you never considered it but here goes.

    How about don’t have drug addicts in your University? If they have a problem and it’s interfering with their studies, then maybe they need to take a “long break” if you know what I mean… Common sense, people.