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(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Sept. 25, 2006)

Injecting some objectivity

  By John Martin

The emotional controversy surrounding Insite has pretty well quashed any rational and informed dialogue on legal injection sites.

Too many opponents of the facility couch their opposition in strict moral and legal terms; ignoring the psychological and physical realities of addiction.

But supporters seem to be running on blind devotion as well.

As in the cases of same sex marriage, government-run day care, and Wal-Mart; one's political and philosophical convictions tend to conscript them into one camp or the other on hot button issues. When individuals take positions on social issues based on herd mentality, they rarely take the time to compose and articulate convincing cases.

It's important to recall how much political capital has been invested in the injection site. The election that saw Larry Campbell and COPE take over Vancouver City Hall was very much a plebiscite on establishing such a facility. For many players, Insite "must" succeed.

The tobacco companies have never had difficulty finding research firms or academics to write reports confirming the harmlessness of second hand smoke.

So the fact that the "research" to date tends to support the facility should be considered very tentatively.

Normally, academics are overly cautious when interpreting data. They tend to resist announcing firm conclusions and typically urge further research. But such healthy skepticism is in short supply regarding the preliminary inquiry conducted on Insite.

Anyone with a research background should know that the facility has not been in operation long enough to be qualified an outright success or failure. The evaluative research is at a preliminary and speculative stage at best. Quite simply, it's too early to tell.

Other scholars are claiming that because something similar is doing well in Switzerland we should open up a string of injection sites in B.C., and the Fraser Valley in particular, as though we were talking about expanding a fast food schnitzel franchise. Assuming that what worked in one jurisdiction will automatically work in another is an error more typical of first year research students.

But Insite's supporters jubilantly wave these studies about in the erroneous belief they are proof that the site is a success.

The injection facility was supposed to be more than a clean place to do drugs (Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan has a backseat in his van for that). It was to be part of a larger strategy to reduce the numbers of drug users. But the research thus far is unable to document how many people, if any, have stopped using intravenous drugs as a partial consequence of Insite.

Nothing new here. Supporters of the long gun registry insisted it saved lives despite lacking a single piece of evidence that it prevented even one homicide.

But objectivity is often a casualty when serious issues become cause celebres.



John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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