The acting chief of the Cape Breton Regional Police, Robert Walsh, has expressed his complete support for opening an overdose prevention site in Sydney.
Walsh has also voiced some concerns about these new overdose prevention sites (formerly known as safe injection sites) including the fact that a safe supply is not already available; this would be a place where doctors prescribe drugs like opioids to people with substance use disorders with special exemptions from Health Canada to do so.
“I really believe that safe supply must be a prerequisite (to the sites),” he said in his interview with the Salt Wire. “To be candid, if there’s not safe supply, drug dealers are able to sell to people with addictions and they’re basically supplying poison.”
Walsh has worked in or supervised nearly every unit of the Cape Breton Regional Police force, major crime divisions as well as street crimes which deal with drugs. From his experience Walsh said that the police recognize the need for harm reduction strategies in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM).
“Addiction isn’t a crime. Addressing drug abuse is more than just enforcement,” he said, referring to opening of overdose prevention sites. “This could be a safe and supportive way to help people with addiction, which in turn will make our community safer and healthier.”
After consulting with police chiefs in other provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan, Walsh said he has an understanding of harm reduction strategies which are more effective than others.
“The consensus is there needs to be legislation in place and safe supply is one of the biggest issues surrounding these sites,” he said.
The required legislation would cover funding, health safety requirements and site location to make sure the sites are not in areas in proximity to public schools or parks. Moreover, some safe injection or safe consumption sites in other provinces are situated in “bubble zones” around them, where police do not arrest individuals who may be selling illegal substances.
However, Walsh spoke out against this notion: “Asking police to turn a blind eye to drug dealing is something that’s not appropriate,” he said.
He said he would prefer to have the police and community involved in consultations with the organization that will operate the site, expressing hope that the police would be welcome inside the site, suggesting a liaison officer position could be created for this.
Christine Porter, executive director of the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, said cocaine has become the “drug of choice” in the CBRM and has surpassed opioid use, which continues to be problematic. However, deaths by opioid overdose still occur in the CBRM, while Walsh hopes that Sydney’s overdose prevention site could reduce this problem.