Pubdate: Fri, 07 Jan 2005
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2005 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Keith Gerein


Preliminary Study Of Vancouver's Experience Shows Benefits

EDMONTON - Positive reviews of Vancouver's new safe injection centre have 
convinced some local leaders to consider the possibility of developing a 
similar facility in Edmonton.

Mayor Stephen Mandel's task force on drugs, which includes representatives 
from the police, Capital Health and various community organizations, is set 
to discuss the controversial idea during its meeting next month.

Such a facility, which allows drug users to shoot up with clean needles 
under the watchful eye of health workers, was set up in Vancouver's 
downtown eastside more than a year ago. It is the only official safe 
injection site in North America.

Preliminary research into the centre's effects has shown that it has helped 
to save lives and improve conditions in the surrounding community.

"I think it's a great idea," said Marliss Taylor of Street Works, a 
non-profit program that offers clean needles to Edmonton drug users. 
"People have a very 'Disney' way of viewing the world.

"They say nobody should be taking drugs. But the fact is people do take 
them, and we better figure out how to help those people in a way that's 

Vancouver's centre averaged about 600 injections a day over the first six 
months of its existence. More than 100 overdoses occurred at the facility 
during that time, but the medical staff prevented any deaths.

In addition, police have reported that quality of life in the surrounding 
community has improved. Drug dealing around the injection site has not 
increased and there are fewer addicts shooting up in public. That has led 
to a reduction in the number of dirty needles being littered on the street.

"A place like this is about moving people from a situation of chaos on the 
street to a situation of stability," Taylor said.

"It's about us (health workers) building relationships with these people. 
When they begin to trust you, that's when you can start to make a 
difference. The more you hide the problem or drive it underground, the 
worse it gets."

The idea of developing a safe injection centre in Edmonton has been 
discussed before, but it was agreed that no decision would be made until 
the Vancouver program was evaluated.

Neither Mandel nor Dr. Bob Ritter, who co-chairs the drug task force, could 
be reached for comment Thursday. The group, which was created in late 2003 
at the urging of then-mayor Bill Smith, is in the process of developing a 
strategy to fight Edmonton's drug problem. The group's next meeting is 
supposed to take place in mid-February.

Street Works, which is based in the Boyle Street Co-op at 10116 105th Ave., 
has been in existence since 1989. It exchanges about 850,000 needles a year 
from six sites around the city and a van that goes out five nights a week.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman