As a senior police official in northern England calls for safe rooms for the injection of hard drugs, attention has focused on similar projects around Europe. They point to an experiment in Copenhagen, which Danish police say has saved lives and helped clean up drug-ridden districts. Addicts bring their own drugs, which remain illegal in Denmark, but police in this neighbourhood, Vesterbro, no longer prosecute them for possession.
Since the launch of the room, the quantity of drug paraphernalia collected from gutters, playgrounds, stairwells and doorways in the area has halved. Vesterbro also appears to be a place where the desperate are seemingly becoming a little less desperate. Burglaries in the wider area are down by about 3%, theft from vehicles and violence down about 5%, and possession of weapons also down. "From the police perspective, I can see the benefits," says Superintendent Henrik Orye. "It feels calmer."
Brighton is set to be the first British city to offer official "drug consumption rooms" where addicts can use heroin, crack and cocaine under supervision without fear of prosecution. The city's public health leaders will "give serious consideration" to the plan in order to save lives. A report published from an independent drugs commission led by the crime author Peter James and Mike Trace, a former UK deputy drugs tsar, is expected to say that drug consumption rooms "significantly reduce overdose death rates" and do not encourage further use.
Ignoring all the scientific evidence, Canada Health Minister Tony Clement will move to close Canada's only sanctioned safe-injection site, announcing it will appeal a British Colombia court ruling that Vancouver's Insite should stay open because reducing the risk of drug overdoses is a vital health service.
Insite’s operators have twice applied for a federal health exemption to allow crack cocaine smokers to use the room – the request was rejected in 2006, ignored in 2009. Proponents say the room would allow health officials to reach a fast-growing segment of drug users, a group prone to viruses because of dirty crack pipes. Critics say scientific evidence for the benefits of supervised inhalation rooms is scant.
Vancouver’s supervised drug-injection clinic, Insite, saves lives and prevents human misery. Providing addicts with a safe, sterile place to inject heroin and other drugs is a pragmatic and effective way to curb the spread of infectious disease, including HIV/AIDs and hepatitis B and C, and to reduce substance abuse and overdoses. Yet the federal government persists in opposing it, viewing Insite not as a critical component of British Columbia’s health-based approach to treating addiction, but as a stark violation of criminal law.
For all the thunderous warnings about Stephen Harper’s hidden agenda, there has been remarkably little talk in this election about one of the few real examples of Conservative social conservatism – namely, the party’s stunningly steadfast opposition to the Insite supervised injection facility in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
A health-care facility that saves lives and prevents the transmission of deadly diseases should be hailed as an innovative advancement in medical care – not a political football to be punted around by the government of the day. Unfortunately, however, the federal Conservatives continue to play deadly games with Insite, North America’s first supervised injection site.
The Supreme Court of Canada has opened the door to supervised drug injection clinics across the country in a landmark decision that ordered the federal government to stop interfering with Vancouver’s controversial Insite clinic. The Court was persuaded by evidence that drug addicts are considerably safer administering their own injections under medical surveillance rather than obtaining and injecting hard drugs on the streets of the city’s troubled Downtown Eastside.
The number of drug-overdose deaths on Vancouver’s notorious downtown Eastside fell sharply after the opening of a safe injection site, new research shows. The study, published online Monday in the medical journal The Lancet, shows that fatal overdoses dropped 35 per cent in the vicinity of Insite in the two years after it opened. By comparison, OD deaths dropped only 9 per cent in the rest of Vancouver in that same period.
When the Supreme Court of Canada convenes to consider Vancouver’s supervised injection site, it will hear detailed arguments that hinge on the fine print of the Canadian Constitution. But besides being a landmark showdown between federal and provincial powers, the hearing also sets the stage for a ruling expected to affect not only the daily lives of injection drug users on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside but drug policy across the country and potentially farther afield.
Divided by politics but united by drug policy, five former Vancouver mayors have issued a last-minute plea to Ottawa to drop its appeal of earlier court decisions approving Insite, the city’s supervised drug injection site. “Since opening in 2003, Insite has proven – beyond a doubt – its worth to our community,” the five ex-mayors say in an open letter issued to the federal Conservative government. Open letter supporting Insite from Vancouver mayors.
Under tough judicial grilling, the Harper government conceded it had no evidence to counter scientific research showing supervised drug injections save lives and reduce harm to addicts. Federal lawyers said a final decision had not been made whether to extend or end a legal exemption for Vancouver’s Insite injection clinic before local health authorities launched a lawsuit in 2008 to save it. But they were at a loss to explain the basis for the Conservative government’s stated reluctance to allow it to continue.
About two decades after the U.S. emerged from the worst of its own crack epidemic, Brazilian authorities are watching the cheap drug spread across this country of 190 million people. They have far fewer resources to deal with it, despite a booming economy that expanded 7.5 percent last year. Walter Maierovitch, a former drug czar, proposes programs that offer adults health services and a safe place to use drugs. "Insisting on programs that demand abstinence doesn't work," he said.
The thirty-five year fight to establish permanent injection rooms for drug addicts is now over after the government announced last week that such facilities would be up and running by 2013. But long-time campaigners are bracing themselves for news on the guidelines for how the rooms are to be run. The government will present a catalogue outlining the current drug legislation and amendments that will need to be made in order for injection rooms to become legal.
The Norwegian government it wants to decriminalise the inhalation of heroin, a method considered less dangerous than injecting it, to reduce the number of overdoses in the country. The move would make smoking heroin an offense on par with injecting, which is illegal in Norway but tolerated. Oslo's municipality operates a site where heroin addicts can inject drugs under safer, more hygienic circumstances.
The personal use of illegal drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine, should be decriminalized as part of a federal-provincial strategy to tackle drug abuse, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition argues. Their report, Getting To Tomorrow, denounces the Harper government’s aggressive war on drugs, which puts the emphasis on law enforcement while steering money away from harm-reduction initiatives like Vancouver’s supervised injection site. (See also: Call to legalize 'hard' drugs meets opposition)
For three years, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users’ (VANDU) operated an unsanctioned, peer-run “safer smoking room” for crack users in a small ventilated washroom in its Downtown Eastside facility. It protected crack users from violence, connected them with health care services, kept them away from public spaces and prevented the spread of disease from pipe-sharing, according to the authors of a recently-published study titled “We need somewhere to smoke crack.”
Drugs Minister Aodhan O'Riordain from Ireland has said he wants to see legislation introducing injection centres for addicts before the next election. The newly-appointment minister says he wants to see people who inject heroin in alleyways and apartment block stairwells provided with a safe, medically supervised location. O'Riordain replied by saying "legislation will be this year" as he still has "some convincing to do". "I have a short time to deliver these things, nine months max before the next general election."
The drug injection rooms ('fixerum') that opened for customers some two and a half years ago in Denmark have been hailed as a resounding success. Out of the 355,255 injections that have taken place in the rooms in Copenhagen, Odense and Aarhus since they opened in 2012, some 301 people have overdosed but not one single death has been reported. "It must be assumed that the hygienic surroundings and the qualified personnel have had a great impact in the injection rooms," the Ministry of Health found in an evaluation (here in Danish).