mcgilldaily.com, April 02, 2011

Montreal campaigns for safe injection sites

A local health advocacy group is stepping up its campaign for a safe injection site in Montreal.

On March 21, members and allies of the group l’Association pour la Défense des Droits et l’Inclusion des personnes qui Consomment des drogues du Québec (ADDICQ) marched through eastern downtown and Old Montreal, demanding that the city government and police respect the rights and dignity of drug addicts in the streets.

The protest took place on the heels of a pending decision from Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc about whether he will allow downtown needle exchange site Cactus to open a safe injection program this summer.

The march concluded at a city council meeting, where members asked about safe injection sites and were refused concrete answers.

“It’s not a moral question, it’s a health question,” said ADDICQ spokesperson Kevin Dion. “63 to 72 per cent of users have Hep C and between 15 and 20 per cent have HIV. … Why don’t we arm them better for health?”

Bolduc has said that he will postpone his decision about safe injection sites in Quebec until May, when a federal ruling concerning the existence of Insite – a safe injection site in Vancouver – will likely be made. This could both put a delay on Cactus’s plans to go forward with the site this June, and determine the legality of their operation in the future.

“It has been proven…that it will at least stabilize the [rate of infection],” said Dion. “In several countries – Switzerland, Germany, even Vancouver – they’ve had a lot of positive outcomes. Were talking about 200 overdoses, 2,000 overdoses that should have been fatal if they hadn’t been supervised.”

Jean-Francois Mary, director of Community Organization and Outreach at Cactus, said he was uneasy about Bolduc basing his future decision on the federal verdict.

“It’s a question of morality for Mr. Bolduc. It’s not a question of expertise,” said Mary. “The Ministry of Health should be concerned about the health of its population, and the experts say that this is a critical improvement for the health of the most marginalized.”

So far the Institut national de santé publique du Québec and the AIDS advocacy group COQC-Sida have both come out in favour of safe injection sites, emphasizing their effectiveness in decreasing health threats to IV-drug users.

He emphasized, however, that a rejection from Bolduc would not stop Cactus from opening the site without his permission.

“Cactus has been around for 22 years. The Ministry of Health’s budget has been in place for two years,” said Mary. “Bolduc’s term is going to be short anyway. We’re going to last longer than he does.”

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