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Editorials Globe editorial: Supervised drug-use sites work well, and Ontario should keep them going

One of the more curiously undertold stories of the Justin Trudeau era has been the huge expansion of supervised drug consumption sites across the country.

When the Liberals were elected in 2015, Vancouver’s Insite was Canada’s only supervised injection site. Today, there are more than 25, from Victoria to Montreal.

Canadians barely seem to have noticed. For observers of the Stephen Harper years, this can be hard to fathom. Not so long ago, Insite was a source of fascination and controversy. The Tories repeatedly tried to shut it down, and journalists wrote uncountable profiles of the strange West Coast cubbyhole where the government let you do heroin.

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More or less under the radar, and with virtually no political blowback, the Trudeau government’s policies have made these clinics part of the Canadian landscape.

That’s cause for celebration. For all the controversy they once generated, supervised consumption sites were overdue for an expansion, especially given the opioid overdose crisis that killed nearly 4,000 Canadians last year.

Research has shown that the sites reduce overdose deaths, the length of drug users’ hospital stays and HIV infection rates. As if that wasn’t enough, the clinics also save public money by improving the health of intravenous-drug users.

These arguments are well rehearsed – Insite opened in 2003, after all – and are apparently more or less accepted by the Canadian public.

It’s baffling, then, that Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government is reviewing its funding of the province’s supervised consumption sites. Health Minister Christine Elliott says she wants to find out if they have “merit.” But Premier Doug Ford has already tipped his hand on the issue, insisting during the recent campaign that he is “dead against” such sites.

We hope this review is a face-saving measure by a government looking for an excuse to keep the clinics open despite its leader’s grandstanding on the issue. Because the review is unnecessary otherwise. We know supervised consumption sites have merit. They save lives. With drug users being poisoned to death every day, that’s all the merit they need.

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