August 24, 2006
The three-year legal exemption that allows the operation of Vancouver's supervised injection site is set to expire on Sept. 12 unless the federal cabinet extends it. Health Canada has recommended that the exemption be renewed. Now, three former mayors of Vancouver have joined current Mayor Sam Sullivan in speaking out in favor of the facility, the only such outreach in North America.
The pilot project was introduced in an effort to curb overdoses and blood-borne infections in the city's Downtown Eastside district, where HIV prevalence among drug injectors had reached almost 25 percent at one point. Drugs are not provided but sterile needles are, along with medical personnel who offer emergency care to overdose victims as well as information on addiction treatment and other health services.
While the facility, called Insite, has been in operation, "There has been a decrease in public disorder in both the residential and business areas. There has been a decrease in overdoses and a decrease in communicable diseases," said Dr. Dan Small, a medical anthropologist and a director with the Portland Community Health Society, which manages Insite with the Vancouver Coastal Health Society. The facility is part of what is known as the city's "Four Pillar" approach to drug addiction, which combines prevention, enforcement, treatment and harm reduction.
"This site has been thoroughly studied and documented by the most prestigious medical journals in the world, and they have deemed it a success. We have wide support to continue, even from Health Canada," Small said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has voiced concerns that the site is encouraging drug use, and many in his Conservative Party do not favor it. Activists have said they feel U.S. lawmakers are lobbying Harper against the site, which was set up in September 2003 by the Liberal government.