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LETTER: Drug consumption site would save lives — and money

'Please implore your elected officials to spend smart and effectively, create this space and return our public spaces to their intended purposes'
Some of the life-saving medical equipment at a safe consumption site in Sudbury.

SooToday received the following letter from local lawyer Jeff Broadbent about the pressing need for a supervised drug consumption site in Sault Ste. Marie. Our reader poll about the ongoing debate can be found here.

Last week, I read with concern the article in SooToday about the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library requesting $161,336 to hire a full-time security officer and a social services technician. Immediately adjacent to that article was another relating to increasing police service needs in our community, all of which were noted to be directly and indirectly related to the addiction crisis in our community. That these needs are real is not in dispute.

It’s also not in dispute that these needs will only continue to grow if we remain on the present course of expensive and ineffective Band-Aids over what are gaping wounds. One key solution to this problem is a safe consumption facility. It would provide a safe, warm, clean, and secure location for those suffering addiction to use rather than the library, alleys, store and residential foyers, among other public places. It would eliminate the need for the increasing expense needs of the library, police service, paramedic service, and other municipal and social institutions.

To be sure, if a designated facility exists, there would be no excuse for consumption of dangerous drugs and the resulting residual discarding of needles and other paraphernalia in public places, such as libraries. Police would have an effective and safe place to direct anyone consuming dangerous drugs in public. Do we really need continuing “drug overdoses in the downstairs washrooms” of the library? Or staff being taken away from their duties including attending to the needs of library patrons to do wellness checks? These are the tasks of professionals in a safe consumption facility, not library staff; a safe consumption facility is more of a clinic tailored to meet the needs that library staff are currently forced to deal with. It’s not fair to library staff or to their patrons.

Indeed, the greatest consumers of our libraries are among the more impressionable or vulnerable in the community including the very young and seniors. Picking up a biohazard is much more likely with a child and quite frankly, as a personal injury lawyer, it’s not difficult to foresee some significant claim against the city for some preventable tragedy. This isn’t just about the cost to the city of a claim, but more importantly the cost to an injured person and their family, all of which can be easily and effectively averted with effective and smart spending proactive action.

Furthermore, employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and other authorities. Library staff are not sufficiently equipped or trained to deal with the addiction crisis as front line first responders. They are librarians, not trained addiction services professionals. Someone is going to get hurt if we don’t do something effective now. I’d much rather be writing proactively to prevent such a tragedy than reactively advancing a claim on behalf of an injured person and their family.

Certainly, there are smarter ways to spend money and deal with this health crisis. Unfortunately, addiction will always be with us, but there are effective and economical ways to live with this reality. Being proactive by creating a safe space away from the library and other inappropriate public spaces is much smarter than our current reactive approach. Reacting is throwing money hand over fist into an ineffective pit that only continues to grow deeper and wider. Librarians are not healthcare providers, have not been trained for this, and have not chosen to work in the healthcare or security fields. But their role is every bit as important as healthcare providers and they need to be able get back to their chosen profession, nourishing our community intellectually and introducing the young and others to the rich universe awaiting them inside the library.

Accordingly, I write as a concerned citizen and active member of a non-profit organization committed to bringing a safe consumption space to our community imploring readers to see the economic and effective value of such a space. Our community needs smart spending and a commitment to safe public spaces for all. Creating a safe consumption facility will by extension return the library to its place as a safe space for learning and discovery. It will restore the downtown and other public spaces to places of safety and enjoyment for all.

It’s been four years since I joined with others before me in the effort to bring meaningful and effective infrastructure to our community. Our organization consists of nurses and doctors, therapists and counsellors, lawyers, a retired Superior Court judge and a retired crown attorney. This panel is diverse in terms of each of our experiences professionally with clients and patients suffering addiction. Despite the diversity of perspective on the panel, there is universal belief in the need for, and effectiveness of a safe consumption facility in our community. How many of the countless lives lost that could have been saved over the past four years had we had a facility in place sooner? Surely, the library would not have to be pleading for $161,336 to address a crisis they should not have to be dealing with and would not be if we had a safe consumption facility. Surely, policing, paramedic and other needs would not have continued to climbing out of control.

Even if one is not motivated by sympathy for those suffering addiction, surely the economics of smart spending appeals to all. This is one crisis that should bring people together rather than divide as an effective and economical solution is at hand, we just need our elected officials to reach for it. Our federal, provincial and municipal elected representatives have a responsibility to manage our money effectively and efficiently and provide economical and effective infrastructure in the community. To date, we have received sympathetic and expressions of understanding from them, but no effective action on the creation of a facility. Three years ago, we had a location for the facility but after months of patient waiting by the vendor, absent government funding support, the opportunity was lost. Our community can wait no more.

Accordingly, I am imploring a broader approach to addressing this crisis and not the short sighted and ineffective approach of throwing money into the abyss. Let’s spend smart and deal with this crisis in an effective manner.

We need a safe consumption facility now. Please implore your elected officials to spend smart and effectively, create this space and return our public spaces to their intended purposes.

Jeff Broadbent
Sault Ste. Marie

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