Are Canada’s Safe Injection Sites Really That Bad Or Worth It?

When it comes to crime, it is extremely difficult to establish causality

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Drug overdoses are one of the leading causes of death in Canada, which is why the concept of safe injection sites for addicts has become an issue across the country and around the world.

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Proponents say they reduce overdose rates and crime, increase the likelihood that those who consume them will eventually seek medical treatment, and have an overall positive impact on public safety.

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Opponents argue that they normalize drug behaviors, increase crime, do not impact the number of addicts seeking treatment, undermine neighborhoods and are generally negative in terms of public safety.

In fact, there is insufficient data to determine whether safe injection sites increase or decrease crime rates.

When it comes to crime, it is extremely difficult to establish causality.

While we may know from data collection that the overall crime rate is going up or down in any given year, pinpointing the exact cause or causes is almost impossible because so many factors influence crime rates.

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Even if safe injection sites could be determined to increase or decrease crime rates in a given neighborhood, we would need to look at what happened to crime rates in surrounding communities that don’t have safe injection sites to get an accurate picture.

It can be argued that enforcement measures such as increased police patrols and surveillance cameras near safe injection sites would increase public safety, although they might also deter addicts from using the injection site.

It is argued that by concentrating drug-related problems in a few controlled areas – rather than spreading them more widely — resources can be used more efficiently to address these problems.

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The bottom line is that the negative and positive effects of safe injection sites on crime rates have not been well quantified, as too few people use safe injection sites to make that claim.

However, injection sites have been shown to be effective in preventing overdose deaths in those who use them. This point is not generally disputed.

It is difficult to determine whether drug addicts are more likely to seek medical treatment when using a safe injection site because while addicts can be told locally that addiction counseling, treatment and psychiatric services are theoretically available, however, the reality is that services are scarce in Canada.

The problem with this is that when an addict ultimately decides to seek help but that help is not available or they are just put on a long waiting list for help, it can reinforce their belief that no one cares which can make their illness worse.

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Common complaints about safe injection sites endangering neighborhoods have to do with public urination and defecation, improper needle disposal, an increase in petty theft and housing problems.

The availability of public toilets and increased enforcement around needle disposal and petty crime may solve these problems, but there is little evidence that safe injection sites contribute to the housing crisis.

Put simply, there are too few safe injection sites to have a significant impact on housing availability.

Finally, there is no consensus as to whether safe injection sites normalize drug use in society, or whether normalizing drug use has any negative effect at all, both of which are in fact influenced by many issues.

What we can definitely say about safe injection sites is that they are good at preventing overdoses for the people who use them.

— Vezina is CEO of Prepared Canada Corp. and teaches disaster and emergency management at York University; he can be reached at


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