“Safe Injection Sites”: Good Protection Plan, or Perpetrating the Evil?

The controversial safe-injection site for the ...
Safe Injection site in Vancouver

I read an interesting article today in the New York Times about Vancouver, B.C.‘s new plan to counter HIV.  “An H.I.V. Strategy Invites Addicts In“.

The jist of it is that they have opened a “safe injection site”, with trained nurses on staff, where junkies and drug addicts can come, bring their drugs and get clean needles, dispose of their old ones, and be supervised while they shoot up.

One the one hand it seems like the government is condoning drug use.  That they are telling people, “it’s okay to use illegal drugs, we’ll take care of you when you nearly die from an overdose” ( The article mentions that since this site opened there have been over 1000 overdoses, but no deaths.)  If this is the logic, what’s next?  Government run “Safe brothels”? “Safe illegal border crossing sites” where they are guaranteed not to be shot at?

On the other hand, this article focuses on the benefits of such safe injection sites:  that they help prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV, and they do save lives when people overdose.  What is the ethical morality of a government making an illegal activity safe for those who choose to engage in it?

I don’t want to seem cruel or harsh here, but these people know that doing drugs is not only illegal, but dangerous, possibly deadly.  If they choose to continue, despite the warnings and the risks, are they not subject to the consequences?  Why should we have to step in and make this illegal activity safer, isn’t that just inherently wrong?

But, I get the human side of things, I understand that we want to help as many people as we can.  We want to do whatever we can to prevent the spread of disease, even if that means turning a blind eye to the illegality of whatever is going on.  There are some impressive results coming out of this Safe Injection Site, because it isn’t just a ‘safe’ place to shoot up, but it is a place where HIV is tested and treated ‘aggressively’, as the article put it.  From 1996-2009 there was an increase of 80% in the number of people taking medication, and a 52% decrease in the annual number of new HIV infections.  And in the long run, they say they are saving money.  By treating people now, even spending millions of dollars, they are preventing many new cases of HIV that would need to be treated.


So, I guess I am really split on this issue.  One one hand I want to help people, I want to make things safe. But on the other hand, I cannot condone illegal activities in any way, I cannot justify protecting people who are engaging in illegal activities.

What do you think?  Where do you stand? What are your thoughts?

3 thoughts on ““Safe Injection Sites”: Good Protection Plan, or Perpetrating the Evil?

  1. My biggest concern is that this shouldn’t invite the problem to expand. If this is an invitation to people to become junkies– well, that is ridiculous.

    How to avoid that? Turn away people that don’t have the typical ‘scars’ that junkies have (maybe there are other ways to ascertain that, too).

    I really think that there should also be an offer for counseling, to decrease dosages to help them get off the stuff, and if they accept, then they aren’t prosecuted, so long as they are making progress.

    It’s certainly dicey– I’ll have to keep thinking about this one.

  2. This is a touchy issue. For me its mostly a price issue, if they can do it cheap, great, but with the deficit we need to cut programs that aren’t essential.

    1. True, but what the article pointed out is that in the long run it is cheaper to test and treat, because it prevents so many more instances. I can’t remember the numbers now, but one of the doctors involved did present to the Canadian government his estimates on how many millions they could save by treating people now who would not spread the disease.

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