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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
CANADA: Police Oppose Safe Injection Sites

January 19, 2012
Toronto Star (01.12.12) - Thursday, January 19, 2012

In interviews and focus groups, police in Toronto and Ottawa voiced strong opposition to supervised drug consumption sites (SCSs), according to a new study. The first analysis of regional law enforcement perceptions of SCSs found police do not believe the intervention is a way to reduce harm from illegal drug use. Those interviewed, 18 officers of various ranks, also said SCSs do not address addiction.

In the study, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair expressed concern over "the ambiguous messaging that comes out from a society that says you can't use these drugs, they're against the law, but if you do, we'll provide a place to do it in." "It's a little problematic when you're trying to explain to young people about the consequences of illegal drug use," he said. "And we are interested in trying to discourage them from that." The police officers generally distrusted previous studies showing public health benefits of SCSs, where drug users inject under medical supervision as a means to prevent overdoses and infections, including HIV and hepatitis. Research has shown that SCSs have been associated with a drop in fatal overdoses and public drug use, and with health care savings, among other findings. The officers polled, however, put greater stock in colleagues' anecdotes and their own police work with drug-related activities.

A report on whether Toronto and Ottawa could benefit from SCSs is expected this year. Such an intervention in Toronto "likely represents good value for money," initial data indicate.

While small, the new study represents a good starting point for addressing police concerns, said Dr. Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health & Human Rights.

The analysis, "Police Perceptions of Supervised Consumption Sites (SCSs): A Qualitative Study," was funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network and published in Substance Use & Abuse (2012;47(4):364-374).

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