For community services workers in Canada, helping those with drug dependencies can be a matter of life and death.
Injection drugs like heroin are of great concern to authorities because of their addictive properties and the considerable damage they can do to users. However, there is another cost to this ongoing problem that some people do not consider. As needles are not easy to come by, addicts will often share them. This results in diseases like HIV and Hepatitis-C.
One solution to the latter problem is safe injection sites. These give users a safe place to inject and new, hygienic needles to use. There are medical personnel on-site should an overdose or other health emergency occur. Users can meet with counsellors who give strategies that will help them kick the habit.
These sites also help to reduce the number of discarded syringes littering public spaces. Needles are dangerous in themselves because someone could prick themselves and become infected.
Safe injection sites are part of a strategy known as harm reduction. Harm reduction acknowledges that drug use exists and does not encourage this practice. However, instead of condemning addicts outright, it presents ways to lessen the ill effects of drugs to both the user and the public.
Despite the benefits, safe injection sites draw controversy.
Some taxpayers feel that their money should not go to helping I.V. drug users perpetuate their illegal lifestyles. Leaving aside the safety issues, supervised injection sites help to save the system money because they reduce the number of medications and hospital visits needed as well as fewer instances of police intervention.
A safe injection site opened in Vancouver in 2003 and continues to be an asset to the city. Studies conducted in the years since do not show an increase in crime or drug trafficking in the surrounding area.
Despite this, and the benefits mentioned above, there has been reluctance to open such a site in Ontario. A Global News report revealed the results of a study about potential benefits for Toronto and Ottawa. The Toronto findings showed that such a site would prevent 164 HIV infections and 459 Hepatitis C infections over a 20-year period. The facility would cost $33 million to run, but save the healthcare system $43 million in treatment expenses.
The Liberal Party promised to support safe injection sites during their election campaign, but some politicians and segments of the public need more education to fully understand that the benefits outweigh their objections.
Community services workers play an important role in treating people with substance dependency. Drug addiction is now widely recognized as a disease, so the best treatment practice finds workers studying the psychology of addiction. Drug use often arises from other problems, so CSWs also work closely with clients and their families to help solve concurrent problems addicts face, such as mental health challenges, unemployment, trauma, homelessness, and health care issues.
CSWs advocate for people that would otherwise get lost in the system. By giving structure and a sense of hope, they make an important difference for their clients, families, and the public at large.
DDE’s book, Canada’s At Risk Populations: An Introduction to Case Management, delves into the issues facing CSWs and the populations struggling with stressors like drugs, violence, or poverty.