Pubdate: Mon, 29 May 2006
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw, Times Colonist
Bookmark: (Safe Injecting Rooms)


Victoria's push to build safe injection drug sites has hit its biggest
roadblock yet -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

During a private meeting with Harper Friday, Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe
said he was told safe injection sites go against the beliefs of the
Conservative government.

"I did ask [Harper] about what his direction is on safe injection
sites, and he said that he was waiting for some more studies," said

"He did say that looking at safe injection sites was almost against
their philosophy and I guess the only hope that I got out of the
discussion was it seemed like he was willing to listen to the research."

After a fact-finding trip to Europe last summer, Lowe has become a
public champion of safe injection sites, advocating such facilities be
tied in to smaller health centres as a way to help Victoria drug addicts.

The city has held open houses to discuss the issue, and Victoria
police have indicated their support for the sites. Meanwhile, the
Vancouver Island Health Authority has drafted a feasibility study to
look at the medical benefits of safe injection.

There are currently only two legal safe injection sites in North
America, both located in Vancouver. The most prominent is called
InSite, in the downtown east side, where users are given clean
equipment and supervised by medical staff as they inject drugs such as
heroin or cocaine. Drug users are also offered counselling.

InSite received a three-year research exemption from federal drug laws
by the previous Liberal government. But the exemption expires in
September. At the same time, a final set of research is expected on
the site's effectiveness.

Harper has told media he's "not committed" to extending the life of
the project, but will look at the research.

Although Victoria had asked to partner with Vancouver on future safe
injection projects, it is now clear Victoria has to set itself apart
from a big city approach if it hopes to get its own smaller sites,
said Lowe.

"I think if we went in with a proposal that is similar to Vancouver's
we would be turned down," said Lowe. "It has to be something that's
different and will give [the government] more data."

The Conservative government is "another hurdle to overcome" in efforts
to help those battling drug addiction, said Lowe. And while Harper's
reluctance to commit to the idea has dealt a blow to Victoria's plans,
Lowe said he remains optimistic the city can "get its ducks in a row"
on a proposal and continue to pressure Ottawa to change its mind.

Safe injection will be a discussion topic at an upcoming public
conference on substance use in Victoria. Speakers at the first Voices
of Substance conference include provincial health officials, police,
Vancouver safe injection organizers, business leaders and former drug
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