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Press Release

Supervised Injection Site Focus of Case Before the Supreme Court of Canada

May 11, 2011

Vancouver -- Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) will reinforce the importance of Insite, Canada's first supervised injection site, to the Supreme Court of Canada tomorrow in an attempt to keep the Downtown Eastside facility open.

VCH is the operator of Insite which opened its doors in 2003. Since then, more than 1.8 million injections have been done at the facility under the supervision of nurses. There have been no overdose deaths in the site despite more than 1,500 overdose interventions, some of which have included full respiratory arrest.

VCH provides all the funding for the facility and employs the medical staff (nurses and doctors). It also funds, under contract, counselling and peer support services provided by the Portland Hotel Community Services Society.

The court parties are appellants Attorney General of Canada and Minister of Health for Canada. The respondents are Portland Hotel Community Services Society; Dean Edward Wilson and Shelly Tomic; the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU); and Attorney General of BC.

VCH is an intervener in the Supreme Court of Canada Appeal that will be heard in Ottawa tomorrow (Thursday, May 12). An intervener is a party that may have its rights affected by a court outcome.

Other interveners include the Canadian and BC Civil Liberties associations; the BC Nurses Union; Canadian Public Health Association; and Canadian Medical Association.

The lawsuit was launched after the Federal government indicated it would not renew the drug law exemption that allows Insite to operate. The respondents won in BC Supreme Court, and the BC Court of Appeal in a split decision. The Federal government then appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

One of the key court arguments is jurisdiction under the Canadian Constitution where health care falls under provincial control, and is not a federal responsibility.

VCH supports Insite which, as evidence shows, has saved lives and provided other health benefits to a marginalized population. Notably, Onsite, a no-appointment detox facility in the same building as Insite has successfully served a significant number of this difficult-to-treat client group.

More than 30 research studies, many of them from the BC Centre of Excellence for HIV/AIDS, have been published in medical journals around the world and concluded that Insite saves lives and is a health benefit. The latest article was published in the Lancet in April 2011 and showed that drug overdoses decreased by 35% within 500 metres of Insite over several years of operation compared to only nine percent in the rest of Vancouver.

Last week, the BC Coroner's Service recommended IV drug users attend Insite for safety reasons due to tainted heroin circulating and causing overdoses in the province.

Insite stats for 2010 include:

  • Average visits per day = 855
  • Most visits in one day = 1,110
  • Total visits in 2010 = 312,214
  • Total individuals who visited in 2010 = 12,236
  • 26% of participants were women
  • 17% of participants identified as Aboriginal
  • Average number of injections per day = 587
  • Total overdose interventions = 221
  • Fatalities to date = nil
  • Principle substances reported were heroin (36% of instances), cocaine (32%) and morphine (12%)
  • Total referrals to health and addiction services = 5,268, mostly to detox and addiction treatment
  • Total nurse treatment interventions, including wound care, abscess/vein care, foot care and other skin care = 3,383
  • Total admissions to Onsite detox = 458
  • Completion rate at Onsite detox = 43% with the most challenging clientele in the country
  • Insite's operational budget was $3.0 million last fiscal year out of a total addiction services budget in Vancouver of $44 million.

VCH is responsible for the delivery of $2.9 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities, including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.

For more information about Insite:

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This article was provided by Vancouver Coastal Health.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: Canada

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