Pubdate: Thu, 05 Aug 2004
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Terri Theodore / Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


A Room For Just That Exists at The Legal Injection Facility But Is Not In Use

VANCOUVER - A new support group for crack cocaine users wants the 
government to establish a safe-inhalation site to give crack users a spot 
to smoke up in safety without harassment from police.

The smoking site would be inside a site established almost a year ago for 
injection drug users, the first and only spot of its kind in Canada.

"I believe it makes the street safer," said Rob Morgan, spokesman for the 
Rock Users Group.

"Right now, on the street, if you're even carrying a pipe and you're not 
smoking it, you get roughed up by the police. That shouldn't happen."

The group wants access to a room especially built at the safe-injection 
site for those who smoke or inhale their drugs.

The room was built into the facility with the notion it might be needed in 
the future.

But it is currently being used as an office because there is no legal 
provision to allow a safe-inhalation site, said Viviana Zanocco, 
spokeswoman for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which operates the 
safe-injection site.

"It's not so far-fetched. I think if you told me a couple years ago that 
we'd have a safe-injection site in the city of Vancouver, I probably would 
have thought that was far-fetched," said Zanocco.

But she cautioned that a safe-inhalation site isn't likely soon and would 
also require changes in the law to get an exemption to allow it to operate.

"I wouldn't speculate on what Ottawa wants to do. But I would anticipate 
that they would wait until the three years of the operation of this 
[safe-injection site] is up and we evaluate this and see what kind of harm 
reduction we get," she said.

The safe-injection site received a grant of $1.5 million from Ottawa and 
$3.2 million from the provincial government. It opened last September.

It is a three-year pilot project to determine whether allowing injection 
drug users to shoot up in a safe environment with clean equipment and 
medical help will reduce the number of users who overdose or contract HIV 
or hepatitis C.

The site required a legal exemption and police have agreed not to challenge 
users within a 10-block radius around the facility. The crack users want 
the same amnesty from police.

The site has drawn criticism. The International Narcotics Control Board, an 
independent United Nations organization, criticized it for allowing people 
to "inject drugs acquired on the illicit market with impunity" and 
suggested Canada is violating international drug treaties it signed.

Zanocco said the safe-injection site monitors about 550 injections per day. 
Some of those are repeat users. Open drug use is down and about four people 
per day are referred for treatment.

She said the priority was on injection drug users because of the many 
health issues they face unrelated to their addiction, such as HIV and 

That's not the same with crack users, she said.

But Morgan, a 41-year-old crack addict, disagreed.

"There's nobody out there telling them [users] that you can get Hep C 
through these mouthpieces, eh? There's nobody giving information. 
Everyone's just seeming like, I smoke crack, therefore I won't get Hep C, 
therefore I won't get HIV and yet there is a blood transference if you cut 
your lip on there and you pass it to your buddy and it gets into his system.

"We're educating everybody."

The Rock Users Group is also looking for money to begin distributing crack 
kits to users. The kits would include a pipe, five brass screens, two new 
mouthpieces, condoms and printed material on safe smoking techniques.

The kits follow the successful principle of the needle exchange.

Morgan said the group has received some funding for a pilot project to 
distribute the kits from the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users -- VANDU 
- -- but is looking for further donations.

Zanocco said that before the health authority gets involved in distributing 
the crack kits, it would need some "hard data to say this actually works, 
that people are going to use them and that they do cut down on harm."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager