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.
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 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.”
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).
In a surprise ruling yesterday, the British Colombia Supreme Court supported Vancouver's experimental supervised injection clinic Insite - North America's first legal supervised injection site - and halted federal attempts to close the facility. That is very good news, but the ruling went even further.
A legal, city-funded center where intravenous drug users can get needles and shoot up without consequence is on the agenda in San Francisco. The idea comes from the city's Hepatitis C Task Force, created by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2009 in response to growing concern over the 12,000 San Francisco residents infected by the disease, most of whom have no idea of their status. Opening the nation's first legal injection drug center garnered unanimous support by the task force.
Many residents of Vesterbro have lived alongside the local homeless and drug-addict populations for decades. But for the sake of the drug users’ health – as well as the hope to reduce crime and avoid exposing children to drug culture – many have long demanded that the city provide a room where drug users can inject their drugs under the supervision of healthcare experts.
French officials across the political spectrum have expressed support for "shooting galleries", where addicts could use drugs under medical supervision. Such centres exist in several other European countries. The debate over "shooting galleries" started in the headquarters of an anti-addiction association located in the Belleville neighbourhood of Paris. In May 2009, the association, called ASUD (Self-support and Risk Reduction among Drug Users) opened a centre in which addicts could use drugs under medical supervision.
InSite does not operate under the assumption that addiction is incurable. We believe in recovery; in fact, the biggest difference between our approach to recovery and the opinion expressed by Barbara Kay in her recent column (Rehab still the best solution for addiction) is that we believe it should be possible even for addicts who are not ready to get clean. InSite’s purpose is to help prevent addicts from dying, either from an overdose or from a disease, before they get a chance to recover.
A diplomatic cable shows U.S. officials opposed the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver and wanted the federal and municipal governments to shut it down. The reference to Vancouver-based Insite is found in a U.S. Embassy assessment of Canadian drug policy dated Nov. 2, 2009 and released through Wikileaks.
Colombia's chief public prosecutor has called for a referendum on whether to legalise drug consumption, in response to plans to set up a network of public centres where users can consume illicit drugs under supervision. The so-called “controlled consumption centres” are part of a drive by Gustavo Petro, the mayor of the capital, Bogotá, to reduce drug-related crime in the city.
Mobile injection rooms have been operated for the past year out of two former ambulances. Run by the private organisation Foreningen Fixerum and staffed by volunteer healthcare workers, the rooms-on-wheels offered a safe and hygienic place, off the streets, for drug users to inject. The City Council took over the project earlier this year when the long legal battle to establish stationary injection rooms was finally won.