Macleans writer John Geddes undeniably has a captivating yarn to read about alleged RCMP and federal Conservative influence into the Vancouver “Safe Injection” facility, Insite, that is publicly funded by Health Canada. The story contains assertions that the RCMP brass in Ottawa went out of their way to scientifically disprove the peer-reviewed medical research that Insite delivers “positive impacts” of supervised injections for intravenous drug users.
According to the article, the RCMP almost held a press conference to announce a reversal of policy on Insite, and express their support for the benefits and positive impacts that such a facility presents for both drug users and society at large. But that press conference never happened, contends the article, because of possible political interference from Ottawa.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Conservatives have had a hand in trying to shut down Insite, but it is a little unusual to learn that the RCMP themselves spent federal tax dollars funding research into studies that would scientifically corroborate their predetermined ideological view of the supervised injection site. At the heart of the Geddes article is a strong suggestion that Industry Minister Tony Clement has had direct influence in ordering the RCMP to tow the line on the Conservative Party’s stated opposition to Insite.
The mistake in this whole business appears not to be the opposition of Insite, but the attempt to argue against the facility from scientific, rather than ideological reasons. I think that anybody who honestly assesses the “harm reduction” philosophy of Insite’s medical mandate, would agree that supervised drug injection has measurable benefits.
Providing clean syringes, sanitized conditions, and supervised administration of heroin, has prevented the spread of HIV and Hepatitis, while treating a recorded 400 overdoses on the scene. Nobody has ever died in the facility, and counsellors and social workers are always standing by with the offer of rehabilitation and assistance in kicking the drug habit.
But there are two problems with a medically supervised injection site from where I’m standing.
The first is that, unlike a country like Portugal that has similar facilities and drug treatment, our laws have not decriminalized drug use. A logical extension to drug treatment would be to continue to make selling drugs illegal, but to remove all criminal penalties for those taking drugs, so that there is never a stigma attached to seeking help for drug abuse. It is because possession of certain narcotics are still illegal, that many conservatives have an ethical problem with administering aid in their use.
The second problem is that medically supervised narcotic use isn’t a privately funded affair. The concept that public tax dollars are being used in a form of blackmail — i.e.: it’s cheaper to treat them now, than later when they get HIV and require millions of dollars in public health aid — is undeniably a difficult means of gaining public support.
There is certainly no excuse for either the Conservative government, members within, or the RCMP itself, to go out of its way to find scientific evidence that Insite does not provide the kind of harm reduction claims it makes. That is like seeking for truth in a logically backward process; you arrive at a conclusion, and then attempt to discover whether that conclusion is supported by evidence.
But the objection to Insite by conservatives has been, and should continue to be, based upon the simple argument of whether the ends justify the means. If one believes that publicly-disbursed tax dollars should not go toward the facilitation of illicit drug use of a harmful narcotic because of the principle that it is unethical, then that person is obliged by his conscience to oppose such a facility, regardless of the alleged scientific benefits. The net reduction of harm to society does not justify government assistance in the taking of a harmful substance.
Unfortunately the Conservatives haven’t taken a clear and unequivocal stand that this is an ethical matter, and not one of how much harm is being reduced. Nor does Insite seem to be consistent with the Conservative ideology that drug abuse is immoral, as evidenced by their increased penalties even for drugs considered relatively innocuous, such as marijuana. Indeed, a drug injection site under medical supervision would not be fully effective within a mandate of net harm reduction without an absolute decriminalization for all drug use.
It isn’t that the Conservatives are wrong here; it’s that they’re being inconsistent by trying to fight an ideological issue with science.