People are dying while Queen’s Park fiddles

There are many places where ideology can play an important role in a democratic state. Ideology can act as a guidepost for many voters when they are deciding where to cast their ballot come election time. Ideology can provide policy direction for elected officials as they guide the civil servants who actually make up the government and put its regulations into effect. But medicine and science are two items where political and social ideology should not play a significant role. Sadly, with the current provincial government, ideology appears to be taking a leading role and people are going to die because of it.

The Ford government’s decision to place a moratorium on safe injection sites and to dictate the way injection sites function could hardly be more poorly timed. There is an opioid overdose epidemic rising across this country, and while British Columbia remains the high point in overdose deaths, Ontario is in the process of catching up.

In 2016 there were 726 fatal opioid overdoses in Ontario, rising to 1,125 in 2017 (that would be three per day at least by now). In the first two weeks of August alone Toronto police announced there had been seven overdose deaths in the city. Many of those deaths might have been prevented had there been a safe injection site with trained staff nearby.

The science is clear and well-established. Supervised injection sites save lives. Period. There is no wiggle room on this. The math is clear and defined: No safe injection sites equal more death.

Certainly getting people off of drugs and into rehabilitation programs to treat their addictions is a laudable concept, but the simple truth is that it is hard to get people into treatment if they are dead.

Drug addiction can hit any family. Mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents; the scourge can strike anywhere along the family line. There is no social class, no occupation, no religious creed or diet that provides protection. Drug addiction can come about through bad lifestyle choices, or it can come on the heels of an accident or illness. The over-prescription of opioids by the medical profession has been well documented and the sociopathic predilections of big pharma that has enabled the current crisis are daily being dragged into the light (and the courts).

Ideologically, there are those who are willing to place the blame for addiction on the victim and are quite willing to leave them to their own just desserts. Ideologically, there are those who believe that safe injection sites encourage drug addiction. Ideologically, there are those who believe that, if safe injections sites are to be allowed at all, they must be first and foremost sites of first contact to get people into treatment. The scientific evidence clearly refutes those ideological concepts with a stark and chilling statistic in each of those cases: someone’s loved one dies.

We need to deal with the root causes of drug addiction. Ideally, we need to get people off of the drugs that are slowly (or quickly) killing them. But while we wrestle with the elusive solutions to those challenges we need to stop the dying.

There is no need for further study of the matter. Any suggestion by the Ford government that more study is needed is a cold, calculated ideologically motivated stance that has no interest in saving people’s lives. The premier and his government needs to be called out on the inhuman policy of allowing our children to die.

There were 2,946 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2016. Extrapolating the number above, we could expect 2017’s numbers to jump around 3,500 and 2018’s well north of 4,000. While you have read this editorial opinion, somebody’s loved one has died.

Drug overdose deaths isn’t someone else’s problem—it is ours. We need to do all that is within our power to halt this deadly epidemic and we need safe injection sites and needle exchange programs in place wherever they can help to tackle the problem at its roots, and the political will to make the effort.