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International News

Canada: The Quest for Safe-Injection Sites

January 14, 2003

Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell was elected largely on his promise to clean up the city, especially Downtown Eastside where public drug use is rampant. In the past decade, an estimated 1,200 addicts have died of overdoses, the leading cause of death in Downtown Eastside for men and women ages 30-44. Recently while on a trip to deliver Vancouver's bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Campbell visited safe injection facilities (SIFs) in Switzerland, a pioneer in such sites. A few dozen SIFs now operate across Europe and in Sydney, Australia.

SIFs allow drug users to shoot up with sterile equipment in a clean environment while medically trained staff are on hand, if needed, to prevent overdoses and blood-borne disease transmission, or steer them into treatment. Studies have shown SIFs dramatically reduce overdose deaths and disease transmission and help get people into treatment. One of the world's first SIFs opened in Frankfurt in 1994; today at least 15 operate across Germany. A recent EU report says the approach has translated into "a dramatic drop" in overdose deaths in Frankfurt and other cities.

Officials from Victoria, Winnipeg, Montreal and Quebec City went to Ottawa last month to discuss guidelines for establishing the first SIFs in North America. Everyone expects Vancouver to be the first to set up one.

Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement said he was "appalled" by an all-party committee of Parliament endorsing SIFs in a report last month, saying, "if you want to do it in Toronto, I believe I should have a say on behalf of the people of Ontario, and I don't think this is the right solution," he said. Clement advocates more education, treatment and rehabilitation.

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"It's been marketed as a silver bullet but there is no such thing," said John Turvey, executive director of Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, which began one of Canada's first needle exchange programs in 1988, distributing 3.5 million annually. Turvey does not oppose SIFs but wants them to be part of an overall infrastructure upgrade of regional treatment that adds detox beds, mental health services and housing.

Back to other CDC news for January 14, 2003

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Adapted from:
Toronto Star
01.12.03; Daniel Girard



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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