Letter to the Editor
A safe consumption site in Sioux Lookout
To the Residents of Sioux Lookout: With spring right around the corner, something that is on the forefront of all of our minds is the number of littered needles that will be emerging in our parks, streets and walkways. This is an issue that citizens of Sioux Lookout have been dealing with since the rise of opioid addictions in our region. There are several harm reduction programs aimed towards those individuals who inject drugs, such as the needle exchange program. In 2018, the Northwestern Health Unit provided 120,339 clean needles to individuals in Sioux Lookout, which is 20,000 more than the previous year, and 133 Naloxone kits. They have also provided needle disposal kits in high traffic areas to encourage the appropriate disposal of those needles. Residents may also call upon the Health Unit to dispose of needles if they are found in public areas. Despite these efforts, there are still an abundance of needles being found in the streets. How can Sioux Lookout effectively deal with this issue that is posing a danger to our environment and the health of our residents?
One suggestion is to create a safe consumption site, where individuals can use drugs in a manner that is safe, supervised, and out of public places. Although this suggestion seems to be unorthodox, we cannot ignore the fact that people are using drugs in our community. We could argue that there needs to be more intervention to stop the drug use, and I agree, there should be, however there are always going to be individuals that will use drugs, and this needs to be addressed. There are several sites across the country that have already implemented this harm reduction strategy with a high level of success. In areas where there are safe consumption sites, there has been a reported decrease in overdose deaths, injection related disease transmission, and needle litter. Collaboration from our local Health Unit, government, and police service is essential as there are several factors that need to be addressed and considered in order to move forward with an application for a safe consumption site, such as a description of local conditions, local policies and procedures, personnel required at each step, consultation reports, a financial plan, and an application for a law amendment because using drugs is an illegal act.
The need for a safe consumption site is clearly evident when we look at the statistics related to those individuals who consume drugs. In 2000 it was reported that 269 people utilised the Out of the Cold Shelter on a regular basis, and of this homeless population, 100% of the people polled reported using alcohol or drugs in the last year. Since drugs are not allowed at the Out of the Cold Shelter, it can then be assumed that this homeless population was left to use drugs and discard their needles in public areas.
My hope in writing this letter is so that our government, and social services in town will consider researching a site that will protect both our residents and environment, as well as offer some solution to the safety of those individuals who use drugs on our streets. Addiction is a complex concept that professionals are constantly striving to understand, however if we work together as a community alongside our social service organizations and local government, we can continue to create a plan to help combat this epidemic.
(Editor’s note: Duewel provided the Editor with her data sources prior to publication. They are available upon request.)