Nationally, the implementation and creation of supervised consumption sites for those who have addictions to opioid-based pharmaceuticals or illegal narcotics is on the rise. Larger municipalities are seeing an insurgence of opioid-based substance abuse, and have felt the impact of social issues surrounding intravenous users.
Cross-contamination from shared needles use has led to the spread of infectious diseases such as staph infections, hepatitis and HIV. To combat this phenomenon, many cities have created “safe consumption sites”, which allowed for the injection of opioids in “safe” locations, with clean and sterilized needles.
These locations have had mixed reviews from the communities in which they are located. Proponents for the sites indicate that they are humane, reduce overdose deaths, reduce transmission of blood borne infections, increase referrals to health and social programs, and also improve public order.
Those opposed to the sites indicate that these locations do nothing to deter or help drug addicts, that government should not facilitate drug use, and that people are committing all manner of crimes to obtain money and property to purchase the drugs, which in turn devalues neighborhood properties and creates further victims.
Currently, there are no definitive plans to create a supervised consumption site within Medicine Hat, but, should such a facility be considered, it is the opinion of the Medicine Hat Police Service that it must be all-encompassing and focus on the community harm factors, as well as potential risk to the individual.
Since the insurgence of methamphetamine and opioids in Medicine Hat starting in 2014, property offences in our community, including fraud, mischief and motor vehicle theft, have risen by 46 per cent. These crimes are typically associated with drug consumption, as users commit crimes in order to support the purchase of illicit substances. In 2016, police seized unprecedented amounts of both heroin and methamphetamine, with the amount of heroin up 470 per cent compared to 2015.
In order for a supervised consumption site to be successfully established within a community several steps must be taken including:
1. Meaningful consultation and dialogue with the community - The community concerns and needs must be heard and addressed prior to a consumption site being developed.
2. Community harm reduction planning - Areas surrounding supervised consumption sites must not become hotbeds for criminal activity and community harm, but rather comply with the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), allowing for a neighborhood to thrive and be free of crime and the perception of crime. More information about CPTED can be found here.
3. A holistic approach to healing and rehabilitation. Simply providing a location for drug users to consume drugs in a safer manner is not addressing the problem. Users must have access to full wrap around services including mental health, addiction, detoxification and legal services and preferably also include fitness, nutrition, community housing and poverty reduction information. Only with the entire spectrum of social and community-based assistance can an individual hope to recover from the effects of these dangerous and additive narcotics.
Finally, in any community where the use of intravenous drugs has become a community issue, the root cause of the problem must be identified and addressed. Abuse of prescription medication, lack of education and awareness programs as well as the treatment traumatic and mental health stressors that often lead to addictions must be considered, otherwise the supervised consumption sites are destined to fail.
Inspector Brent Secondiak has been with the Medicine Hat Police Service since 1999 and has served the community in a variety of units including the Patrol Section, the Drug Enforcement Unit, the Major Crimes Section and the Administrative Services Section. He is currently a member of the Executive Team and provides oversight to a variety of sections, including Major Crimes, Community Safety, the Tactical Team and the Victims Assistance Unit.