Pubdate: Wed, 25 Jun 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Rod Mickleburgh
Bookmark: (Safe Injecting Rooms)


VANCOUVER -- North America's first sanctioned injection site for illegal
drug-users could be up and running by September, after Health Canada
yesterday granted the proposed venue an unprecedented exemption from police

"This is an opportunity to be the first health authority . . . to establish,
scientifically, whether supervised injection sites can improve health
outcomes and reduce the harm to drug users," said Heather Hay, the Vancouver
Community Director who will oversee the site's operation.

Although funding is not yet in place to cover costs of running the safe
injection site, proponents are confident the money will soon be forthcoming
now that Health Canada has given the green light.

"We are two-thirds of the way through our renovations and we expect to be
ready to open in September," said Viviana Zanocco, media relations officer
with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Ms. Zanocco said the proposed site, located in the heart of the city's
drug-ravaged Downtown Eastside, will contain a dozen seats for drug users to
shoot up in a clean and safe environment.

She said at least one registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and
addiction counsellor will be on duty at the site 24 hours a day.

The Health Canada exemption covers Section 56 of the federal Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act. "It means that users can bring their own drugs,
heroin or cocaine onto the site and inject them, and police can't arrest
them for possession of an illegal substance," Ms. Zanocco said.

The goal of the safe injection site, the opening of which has dominated
local municipal politics for the past two years, is to reduce the high
number of fatal drug overdoses and the transmission of diseases such as
hepatitis and HIV.

The left-wing COPE municipal party, led by Mayor Larry Campbell, swept into
office in the last election largely because of its strong support for safe
injection sites on the Downtown Eastside.

Safe injection sites are part of the government-approved, four-pillars
approach to improving conditions in the area and trying to combat the toll
taken by widespread addiction. The other, less controversial pillars are
education, enforcement and treatment.

Health Canada's exemption had been anticipated for some time. Many believe
it was delayed because of strong objections from federal drug authorities in
the United States, who are opposed to the idea.

Safe injection sites have been in place, with generally positive results, in
some European cities and Sydney, Australia, for several years.

"I'm relieved to finally see the exemption come through," said Ann
Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, which has led the
crusade for safe injection sites on the Downtown Eastside. "This is quite a
big deal, and it will be an even bigger deal, when it opens. It's so awful
what's been going on. If drug users had been considered people, we would
have gotten a far more immediate response."

Some community groups became so frustrated at the delay, they began
operating a rudimentary, unauthorized safe-injection site in early April.

The legal, sanctioned site will have an emergency treatment room and areas
to conduct research, counselling and care for injection wounds.
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