InSite supervised consumption site in Vancouver.
Supervised consumption services (SCS) are appearing in many communities across Canada. SCS aim to reduce harm and connect people who use drugs with social supports, primary health care, counselling and substance use treatment programs.
Research supports SCS and shows they result in fewer deaths through overdose, and can reduce the impacts of public drug use on a community. Yet, there are still many myths surrounding them.
Elaine Hyshka, assistant professor, School of Public Health, and scientific director, Royal Alexandra Hospital Inner City Health and Wellness Program, sheds light on supervised consumptions services in Edmonton and helps debunk five common myths.
Myth 1: SCS attract more drug users to a community
FACT: There is currently no evidence that shows having supervised consumption services in a neighbourhood attracts more people who use drugs to that community.
“In one study that was conducted in Edmonton, individuals were asked how far they would be willing to travel to access these services,” explains Hyshka. “The majority of respondents told us that they would only be willing to travel up to one kilometer or less, so the concern that they would bring new people to the neighbourhood is unlikely.”
Myth 2: If SCS are implemented in a community, there will be more criminal activity (e.g. drug dealers, rowdy behaviour, theft, break-ins, assault, etc.).
FACT: There is currently no evidence to suggest that implementing supervised injection services in a neighbourhood will increase crime. In fact, research from Vancouver’s Insite SCS, which has existed since 2003, shows that this service had a positive impact on community safety by reducing needle debris and public injecting, without increasing crime.
Myth 3: These services don’t help individuals living with addiction, they just encourage drug use.
FACT: Supervised consumption services are an important part of harm-reduction strategy by focusing on the prevention of harm and meeting people who use drugs where they are at on their journey.
“Providing these services means that individuals who use substances will have a safe, non-judgmental and supportive space, and will have access to trained health-care providers,” says Hyshka. “People do not start consuming drugs because of the availability of these services; they are primarily used by folks who have a long history of drug use.”
Evidence from the Insite evaluation found that substance use rates in the city were stable after the opening of the facility.
Myth 4: SCS delay entry into traditional treatment programs.
FACT: Supervised consumption services can often be the first point of access for people who are using drugs to obtain safe treatment and prevention resources. They can be an early and important step in a person’s recovery process.
Myth 5: Services like these are just a bandage solution to a bigger problem.
FACT: Addiction and mental health are complex challenges and not every option is right for every individual. A harm reduction model recognizes that abstinence is not a realistic solution for every person living with addiction, so it provides another option for individuals to access safe treatment and resources.
“Rates of overdose have increased dramatically in Canada over the past several years.“SCS help keep people alive and as healthy and as safe as possible, even if they are not ready or able to stop using drugs,” explains Hyshka. “In addition to treatment and recovery supports, they are a core part of the continuum of care for people who use drugs.”