Opponents of safe injection sites in King County have based many arguments on the poor conditions surrounding Vancouver B.C.’s Insite facility. But one journalist argues they are missing a bigger picture.
“What these sites actually do is take street disorder and take it indoors,” Travis Lupick told KIRO Radio’s Zak Burns.
KTTH’s Jason’ Rantz recently visited the neighborhood around Insite and says he was appalled.
“I actually live on the very block Jason described as ‘devastating,'” Lupick said. “I don’t think of the neighborhood where I live as devastating. I can’t argue that it’s not poor and I can’t argue that addiction and mental health is not a problem here.”
“I acknowledge his concerns,” he added. “The situation in the Downtown Eastside is not pretty. I think he just doesn’t understand that it was not pretty long before Insite came along.”
Lupick lived in Vancouver and reported on the safe injection site for more than 10 years before he moved across the street from the facility. He has lived there for the past four years, becoming part of the community.
“Ironically, it’s actually an improvement,” he said. “The supervised safe injection site, Insite, was not put on this block and subsequently the block deteriorated. The people who established Insite, they selected this block because it was in rough shape because there was drug use here, and they said, ‘this is where the safe injection site is needed, so this is where we are going to put it.’”
“It’s not a question of what came first, the chicken or the egg,” he said. “We actually know the answer. The neighborhood was bad and that is why Insite exists here.”
Arguing over Insite
Opponents claim that the neighborhood around the safe injection site is trashed; that the area around the facility degraded because of addicts drawn to the street. They argue that safe injection sites normalize drug use and will attract drug users to the region.
“I find (the notion) a bit silly that drug users will travel across the country because a building opened up where they can use drugs,” Lupick said. “People have always used drugs all over America, and I expect they will continue to do so. What we are trying to do with facilities like Insite is reduce the harms that come with drug use.”
Lupick describes Insite as similar to the facility Seattle is aiming to create — not just a safe injection site, but a center for addiction treatment. There are registered nurses on staff that can connect addicts to detox and treatment services. The idea is to keep addicts alive long enough to get that treatment. Lupick says that many staff members at Insite are now employees there, helping others get off drugs.
“Insite very well may be the most heavily studied health intervention in North American history,” Lupick said. “There are dozens and dozens of peer-reviewed academic journal entries on this program. They show that after Insite was established, open drug use actually decreased because people were going inside Insite … they found used needles discarded on the streets declined in numbers … Hepatitis C infections were reduced in the neighborhood, HIV infections were significantly reduced in the neighborhood, and overdose deaths were reduced in the neighborhood.”
Lupick said that before Insite opened up in the Hastings neighborhood, the business community opposed the facility. But after it was up and running, attitudes started to change.
“They literally marched in the streets opposing it,” Lupick said. “… Fast forward five or six years after Insite opened, those very same business groups were actually supporting it. Instead of using out in the open, people went inside. Instead of discarding needles out by the shops, they used disposal bins provided by Insite. They found that Insite actually reduced street disorder, it did not create more of it.”
Lupick has expanded his reporting on Vancouver B.C.’s addiction epidemic into a book “Fighting for Space: How a group of drug users transformed One City’s Struggle with Addiction.” The book is slated for a June 2018 release.