The Drug Epidemic & the Gateway Drug: Safe Injection Sites as Part of the Solution (a student perspective)

October 30, 2018

As per the extremely publicized political move of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party we have now seen the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Canada as of October 17th, 2018. The often-used phrase “weed is a gateway drug,” is stirring in the minds of many who I have spoken to about the legalization. Many have been vocal about how marijuana is now going to be more readily available and is becoming an accepted part of society. Those who view weed as being a gateway drug, essentially assume that marijuana users will get bored of marijuana alone and go to the streets in search of their next, more exciting high with something harder.

 

There is already a long-standing problem with drugs and high crime rates in the city of Winnipeg. An article published in the Winnipeg Sun in July of 2018 entitled “Community in Crisis: Meth epidemic driving crime surge”, brings to light the all too real epidemic facing the city of Winnipeg. The use of methamphetamine is accelerating, with the article quoting an astounding rise in “possession of meth charges [of] 890% from this time in 2012.” [5]

 

The question however, if there is a correlation between the increase in methamphetamine use and the legalization of marijuana in Canada, is something that I have been pondering for some time; the fact is that it is very well possible. The street dealers became aware that they may lose clientele to a legal way of obtaining marijuana, thus by lowering the price of a highly addictive drug and getting clients hooked prior to legalization they would not see a decrease as much in their sales. This is mere speculation, however as the price of methamphetamine decreases it has become more accessible to a diverse crowd and getting a fix has unfortunately never been easier.

 

With this ever growing epidemic of hard drugs that plague many cities, what is being done to try to mitigate these negative effects? If you have ever driven down East Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia, you can easily see the terrible effects of drugs on the community. The epidemic facing Vancouver is not unlike the methamphetamine epidemic in Winnipeg, just larger in scale with the risk of fentanyl overdoses appearing to be more rampant on the East Side in Vancouver. The concerning fact is that even the risk of dying, overdosing, or overdosing again does not prevent users from injecting the drugs.

 

An article in The Globe and Mail entitled “Cheque Day in the Downtown Eastside,” shines light on the realities of addiction. [4] It describes how a woman and her friend are preparing a needle to inject methamphetamine with, as they watch paramedics attempting to revive another individual who is overdosing. The drug problem is real; so what can be done? One solution that is being experimented with is safe injection sites; this at least alleviates some of the risk of injecting on the street by having a controlled environment to take drugs in and by having clean needles. Personally, I am a supporter of safe injection sites. These injection sites at least give an option to Canadian’s with drug addictions to find a safe outlet.

 

The case of PHS Community Services Society v Canada (Attorney General), discusses the Insite, supervised injection site, which was established in Vancouver in the Downtown Eastside. [3] The site had received constitutional exemptions under s. 56 of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, which allowed Insite users to be exempted from charges of possession contrary to s. 4(1) of the CDSA, and the staff of trafficking per s. 5(1) of the CDSA while at the location. [2] After having successfully operated for five years, a change in government led to the exemption under s.56 not being renewed.

 

In the courts, Insite argued applying the CDSA provisions to the facility in absence of the exemption would violate section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects the “right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”  [1] They further argued that the lack of extending the exemption in of itself was a violation of s.7.

 

The trial judge found that the CDSA sections violated s.7 of the Charter by arbitrarily prohibiting the management of Insite from helping those with addiction. This violation could not be saved by a s.1 analysis. The trial judge issued Insite a constitutional exemption and a suspended declaration of invalidity regarding the sections of the CDSA in question. The British Columbia Court of Appeal affirmed the trial judges decision. Finally, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously dismissed the appeal.

 

The case of PHS demonstrates that there is recognition that something needs to be done for communities plagued by drug addictions. The safe injection sites are a step in the right direction. Currently however, locations are not spread Canada wide, as they are limited to the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. [6] I do recognize these provinces are larger than Manitoba, however this does not mean that Manitoba is immune from the epidemic of drugs. As discussed earlier mentioned methamphetamine is an ever-growing problem in Winnipeg.

 

My only hope is that with the legalization of marijuana, people become less concerned about the negative stigma associated with drug use and more open to helping those struggling. There is an epidemic plaguing our city, with the success that the safe injection sites have seen in other provinces, I truly hope that someone will step up and take on the task of opening one in Winnipeg to keep the vulnerable in our community safe. Safe injection sites though are not the final solution; we still need to offer further support for those struggling to overcome the addiction.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug use, please see the services below:

 

Government of Manitoba, Healthy Living and Seniors, Addictions

Provincial Adult Addictions Information

Toll-Free Line: 1-855-662-6605

 

Youth Addictions Centralized Intake Service

Toll-Free Line: 1-877-710-3999

 

Addictions Foundation of Manitoba

 

Resource Assistance for Youth (RAY)

1-204-783-5617

 

Mobile Crisis Services

Winnipeg RHA - Adult Mobile Crisis Service: 204-940-1781

Youth Mobile Crisis Team: 204-949-4777

 

Interlake-Eastern RHA - Mobile Crisis Services: 204-482-5376 or toll free 1-877-499-8770

 

Prairie Mountain Health - Mobile Crisis Unit: 204-725-4411

 

Southern Health - East of Red River Mental Health

Access Crisis Response Services/Warm Call line: 204-326-9276 or 1-888-617-7715

 

Southern Health - West of Red River Mental Health

Access Crisis Response: 1-866-588-1697

 

Crisis Line  - 24 Hour Crisis Line: 204-786-8686

 

Sources:

[1] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Charter].

 

[2] Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC 1996, c 19, [CDSA].

 

[3] PHS Community Services Society v Canada (Attorney General), 2011 SCC 44, 2011 CarswellBC 2443, [PHS].

 

[4] Rafal Gerszak, “Cheque Day in the Downtown Eastside”, The Globe and Mail (12 November 2017), online: <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/on-cheque-day-a-toxic-mix-of-money-and-drugs-in-vancouvers-downtowneastside/article33462579/>.

 

[5] Scott Billeck, “Community in Crisis: Meth epidemic driving crime surge”, Winnipeg Sun (23 July 2018), online: <https://winnipegsun.com/news/local-news/community-in-crisis-meth-epidemic-driving-crime-surge>.

 

[6] Get help with problematic substance use, Government of Canada, online: <https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/supervised-consumption-sites/status-application.html>.

 

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