Continuing the discussion on safe injection sites | Letter

In the debate about supervised injection sites, advocates and critics seem to be talking past each other with their arguments; the Redmond Reporter article (Oct. 6) continues this unhelpful trend by addressing only one part of the issue.

The article defines success only in terms of temporary benefit to the addict. While there is a treatment center on-site, no statistics are even mentioned about ending addiction. Indeed the Harvard study upon which the article is based states, “Thus, the harm reduction model invites a more flexible set of approaches to ‘treatment’ because its focus is on reducing death and disease and achieving stability ‘rather that to reduce addiction.’” The study admits that the injection site (Insite) had no apparent effect on reducing drug use in the area.

The Harvard study has minimal demographic information about the users of the site. One important question (for suburban sites) is how far are addicts willing to travel to use an injection site, and how will they get to the site. The Harvard study makes it clear that the area already had a high concentration of addicts. Another question is the impact on crime in the area. Well accepted data show that opioid addicts primarily depend on crime to finance their habit. The Vancouver neighborhood studied is described as “Canada’s poorest postal code, is home to ‘a large, open drug scene; a large homeless population; deteriorating housing, including dozens of single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels; and an active sex trade.’ After the injection site was opened, the increase in the local crime rate was described as “not substantial.”

Does any of this sound remotely like Redmond? The Insite philosophy is to find the worst area for drug addiction, particularly opioid injectors, and cite death reduction as a victory. The biggest success claimed by the center is a reduction in HIV and hepatitis. Other claims of benefits are largely rhetorical. One spokesperson argued that if an addict overdoses on the street, EMTs are called, which is a cost to the taxpayer. Unmentioned, the sites have a full medical and clerical staff on-hand 24/7; how expensive is that?

I could not find any data at all on the costs to operate the clinic, or data such as cost per user, per injection, how many overdoses are reversed, and the costs to treat an overdose in house. The Harvard study does not mention costs or benefits at all. It is not heartless to ask about costs for a government service, particularly when the “success” bar is set so low.

The Harvard study did mention what was described as one of the biggest successes. “Much of the success surrounding Insite and its subsequent legal victory rests in the ability of the movement surrounding Insite to successfully reframe the narrative around addiction and addicts in the (Vancouver neighborhood). The normalization of the harm reduction approach to drug addiction … was perhaps the most vital component of this reframing.”

Expect a lot of reframing by proponents. In the meantime, ask if Redmond has the conditions needed to make an injection site useful. Ask how well Redmond already deals with its own social problems such as homelessness and drug use.

Earlier this week, a Superior Court Judge ruled that I-27, the initiative to ban supervised injection sites, cannot be on the ballot this spring. An appeal is expected, but now the only body that can determine whether a supervised injection site opens in Redmond is the Redmond City Council. Ask the members and candidates where they stand on this vital issue. For me, the conditions in Redmond are not those where injections sites have been placed (fortunately), and the risks are unacceptable.

Hank Myers

Redmond City Council member

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