I don’t often find myself in the presence of illegal drugs, and I can’t ever recall witnessing someone use injection drugs, but I thought I had a basic understanding of what is available and the ways in which it impacts society. Lately, I’ve realized how little I actually know.
Several times this summer friends have shared images of used syringes and other paraphernalia found in playgrounds and parks in the Greater Moncton Area. I don’t consider myself naïve; I wasn’t shocked such items were present, nor by the locations, but I was surprised at the quantity. One bag picked up over a weekend, shared online by the volunteer group Needle Dogs Moncton, had a reported 72 needles inside. The group shared earlier this summer it found nearly 200 needles along railway tracks in downtown Moncton, “all of which were uncapped and one was even loaded.” The photos all come with a note that they are being shared to inform the public, “NOT to blame addicts.”
That caveat is important.
Dr. Scott Weiner, writing for Harvard Health, states: “If we, as a society, are truly serious about saving lives, we have no choice but to allow people who use injectable opioids to do so in safe, monitored locations without fear of negative repercussions.” He eloquently explains how, a short time ago, he thought safe injection sites would “empower junkies,” but has come to realize that addiction not only “does not discriminate and does not represent a moral failure” but also “changes the brain of those with the disease.” He states addiction is a “treatable disease, but the window for successful treatment depends on the psychological state of the person. We must be ready to engage them in treatment at that moment when they are ready,” a moment often seized at safe injection sites.
Vancouver has had a safe injection site since 2003; there has never been a fatal overdose at the facility. In 2017, more than 7,000 people visited more than 175,000 times. There were more than 2,000 overdose interventions, and nearly 4,000 other interventions (pregnancy tests, wound care, etc.). More than 400 clients accessed the adjoining detox treatment centre, with more accessing other detox and treatment assistance. The site’s needle exchange service saw more clients than the injection room.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reports a nearly 50 percent increase in opioid-related deaths in our country from 2016 to 2017. Given the frequency and quantity in which volunteers are reporting finding needles and other drug paraphernalia in our community, shouldn’t we be having more public discussions about what other harm reduction and prevention actions we can be taking to ensure everyone is as safe as possible? Moncton has several 24-hour needle disposal bins, including at ENSEMBLE (formerly AIDS Moncton) and at some fire stations, and yet hundreds of needles are being found discarded. We obviously have a need for more safe disposal sites throughout the Greater Moncton Area, and perhaps even a safe injection site.
This, of course, is only part of the issue. Canadian physician Gabor Maté is renowned for his work regarding trauma and addiction. He asks his patients not what they are addicted to, but what they like about that substance or action. The answers, he writes, always revolve around the “attempt to solve genuine human problems: those of emotional loss, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection. It is a forlorn and ultimately futile attempt to solve the dilemma of human suffering.”
Our community prides itself on being connected; let’s work on making sure those connections aren’t just about business, but about what underpins it all. We can do better, Moncton.