‘Safe injection sites’ and tackling IV drug abuse

So-called “safe injection sites” are special buildings where drug addicts can go to shoot up illegal drugs without fear of arrest or prosecution. Such a facility has been operational in Canada on the east side of Vancouver for several years, and drug abusers from around the area come to receive clean needles, ampules of sterile water, swabs for cleaning injection sites, band-aids, ascorbic acid powder (to cut the drugs with), and small metal spoon tools. The Canadian government has been funding this site and is in the process of renewing the funding. Other municipalities like San Francisco and New York have also been considering instituting such sites. Many groups are opposed to these drug zones, seeing them as cooperating in, if not directly promoting, a practice that is clearly unethical and highly damaging to society. They argue that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for places where people can use illegal drugs and destroy their lives.

The idea behind the safe injection sites is to reduce the collateral damage from drug abuse. Proponents argue that since addicts have begun to use the safe injection sites, the crime rate on the east side of Vancouver has fallen and the rates of HIV and hepatitis have declined because clean needles are available. Because nurses can keep an eye on addicts after they shoot up in the facility, they say that deaths by overdose will decline, since ambulances can be called more easily than if drug users were shooting up alone in a darkened alley. They further claim that the needle exchange program can allow users to remain healthy until they get help for their substance abuse problem. There is even a priest who has penned a kind of defense of these sites, writing, “Some people would say you’re giving them the OK. I disagree with that because I think the implication is that we’re dealing with people who can make choices. When they’re addicted that’s a whole different kettle of fish.” In other words, drug users, like fish, have no free will.

While drug addiction certainly puts a major dent in human freedom, it would be false to conclude that an addict can’t make choices. The only reason there is any hope left for an addict is because he still has a small and diminishing space of freedom that he can act on, allowing him to decide whether or not to begin a new journey--he can choose to take the first step along the road leading away from addiction toward rehabilitation. Our public strategy for dealing with drug addiction must always show great sensitivity toward that tiny space of freedom that remains in each individual struggling with addiction. After all, it is precisely this freedom that sets us apart from our animal counterparts. Public policy should not contribute to shrinking that space of freedom even further through approaches that enable destructive behaviors and greater addiction.

The widely touted claim that safe injection sites reduce collateral damage from drug abuse is itself dubious. Researcher Garth Davies, at the conclusion of an extensive analysis of the question, notes how safe injection sites are “too often credited with generating positive effects that are not borne out by solid empirical evidence.” The claim that crime rates dropped in Vancouver following the opening of the safe injection site might have resulted from the injection of 60 police officers into the area when the facility opened (including 4 officers stationed directly outside the facility), rather than from the injections occurring at the facility itself. He concludes, “In truth, none of the impacts attributed to the safe injection facilities can be unambiguously verified.”

Public funding should be directed toward rehabilitation programs rather than safe injection sites. Some argue that safe injection sites might on occasion afford the opportunity to lead addicts toward rehabilitation. Yet there is a contradiction between enabling the addiction on the one hand and promoting rehabilitation on the other.

This contradiction can be seen very clearly in what our society has learned about treating alcoholism. Most of us have witnessed--even among our families and neighbors--how destructive the addiction to alcohol can be. Not only can it ravage a person’s life, but it can also destroy their family, lead to loss of employment, and, even, in some cases, endanger the lives of others through drunken fits or drunk driving. We’ve also seen how many alcoholics have been helped by 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, where the accumulated wisdom of millions of former addicts recognizes that the only way they can conquer their addiction is through supporting each other to never again have another drink. Imagine that, instead of supporting programs like AA and alcoholic rehabilitation centers, a government were to establish bars where alcoholics could come to get drunk, and provided clean glasses, furniture and bathrooms, healthy hors d’oeuvres and munchies, and police protection so that they couldn’t be robbed in dark alleys. Would any of us really think that this would be promoting their rehabilitation? Those who struggle with substance abuse are deserving of public policy initiatives that rehabilitate rather than enable the addicted individual.

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. See www.ncbcenter.org

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

World
Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Nation
Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

World
Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

World
Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

World
Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

World
Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Nation
Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Nation
Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

World
Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Nation
Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Nation
Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Nation
Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Nation
Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Nation
Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

World
Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

World
Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

World
Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Nation
Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

World
Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Nation
Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

World
Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

World
What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

World
Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...

Nation
Addicts and their loved ones talk about life with opioid addiction

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- It was a Saturday night, and Billy was eating pizza and watching a sporting event in the basement bedroom of his residence, a ...

Nation
Signers of letter hope Vatican meeting will bring needed steps on crisis

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Signers of an open letter from Catholic women to Pope Francis urging "truth" and "transparency" on the growing sex abuse crisis expressed ...

Local
Community 'overwhelmed and shell-shocked' after gas explosions, says pastor

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

World
Down to earth: Vatican brings together world's meteorite curators

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Rocks, mineral debris and even dust from space are kept in special collections, museums and laboratories all over the ...

World
Algerian martyrs to be beatified in Algeria Dec. 8

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, will be celebrated Dec. 8 in Oran, ...

Nation
'Anything but a picnic' - Cardinal Dolan on the Church's summer of scandal

New York City, N.Y., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Cardinal Timothy Dolan has spoken about how the extended sexual abuse scandals facing the Church have taken a ...

Local
Restoring and reimagining: Transformation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross

BOSTON -- Considered by many to be the heart of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest Catholic church in New England, ...

Local
Archdiocese says Cardinal O'Malley will personally review all abuse letters

BRAINTREE (CAN) -- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced changes to the way it will process and respond to letters addressed to Cardinal Séan P. ...

Local
CM receives $2.5M grant from Yawkey Foundations

West Roxbury -- Catholic Memorial, a college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7 to 12, announced Sept. 5 that they have received a $2.5 million grant ...

Local
Father Christian Ohazulume removed from ministry

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese announced on Sept. 11 that it had removed a priest from ministry after receiving an allegation that he sexually abused a ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

This week I am in transit to Rome in anticipation of the next meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals. So, I have asked Vivian Soper to share some reflections ...

Nation
Kavanaugh's birth control comments spur controversy -- What did he say?

Washington D.C. (CNA) -- Opponents of Judge Brett Kavanaugh have suggested that a reference to birth control pills as "abortion-inducing drugs" during ...

Nation
Missouri to enforce abortion regulations in wake of appeals court ruling

Jefferson City, Mo. (CNA) -- Missouri's health department announced Monday that it will immediately being enforcing state laws regulating abortion clinics ...