Pubdate: Wed, 08 Aug 2007
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell
Cited: British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Heroin Maintenance)
Bookmark: (Heroin Overdose)


36 people dead in first six months of 2007 compared to 26 for same 
period last year

Drug overdose deaths in Vancouver and the rest of the province have 
increased over last year, according to preliminary statistics from 
the B.C. Coroners Service.

 From January to June, 36 people died of drug overdoses in the city 
and 75 in other parts of the province. For the same period in 2006, 
Vancouver recorded 26 deaths and 84 in the rest of B.C.

For all of 2006, 153 people died of an overdose drug death in B.C. 
Fifty of those people died in Vancouver.

The statistics suggested to the city's drug policy coordinator, 
Donald MacPherson, that an increase in deaths is alarming and that 
more than one supervised injection site is needed in Vancouver.

"For a city our size, we should be much lower than [the recent 
statistics]," MacPherson told the Courier. "If anything, it's an 
argument for more supervised injection places."

Insite on East Hastings is North America's only legal supervised 
injection site. It opened in September 2003. No one has died of an 
overdose at the site.

The Coroners Service statistics show that 223 people in the city died 
of a drug overdose between September 2003 and June 2007.

But as MacPherson has explained in the past, Insite is only a small 
piece of the harm reduction approach to the drug problem. It's not 
fair, he said, to say Insite failed because people continue to die of 
overdose deaths.

"There's no way you can draw a straight line between Insite and the 
stats at all--it has nothing to do with Insite," he said. "It would 
be like saying all the education programs we've done around overdose 
prevention have failed, too. You'd have to know where these overdoses 
took place, who they were, what part of the city. There's so many 
other variables."

Statistics show overdose deaths in the city have been on a steady 
decline since 2001 with 74 and dropping to 50 last year. But the 
potential that more than 70 people could die of overdoses in the city 
this year worries MacPherson.

"It just goes to show that there are very dangerous drugs on the 
streets, and people obviously aren't taking the precautions they 
should be when they're injecting these drugs."

Insite's operating agreement with the federal government expires in 
December. It's unclear whether the Conservative federal government 
will agree to extend the facility's operating licence.

Several studies conducted by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in 
HIV/AIDS indicate that users of Insite contact drug counsellors and 
are referred to treatment.

The facility has also helped reduce the incidents of needle sharing 
among addicts, reducing the spread of diseases. The injection site 
averages more than 600 injections per day.

Mayor Sam Sullivan was unavailable for comment Wednesday or Thursday 
morning to talk about the overdose statistics. But his assistant, 
David Hurford, sent an email to the Courier that read, "Even one 
overdose death is too many. This is why we are working so hard with 
other levels of government to expand access to supportive housing, 
improve mental health services and develop innovative approaches to 
fight drug addiction."

Sullivan backs a plan to have doctors prescribe legal medication to 
up to 800 addicted criminals from the Downtown Eastside. The 
medication would work as a substitute to heroin, crack cocaine and 
other drugs abused by addicts. Details of Sullivan's plan are still 
being worked out before a proposal will be sent to Health Canada for approval.

The mayor, however, has told the Courier he will not spend time 
lobbying Health Canada or the Conservative government for more 
injection sites in Vancouver.

Two weeks ago, Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe told the Courier that 
Vancouver could use another five supervised injection sites. Victoria 
will apply this year to Health Canada to get approval for three sites.

Lowe said having Sullivan as an ally would be an asset when Victoria 
sends its proposal to Health Canada. Sullivan has called the city's 
injection site a temporary measure, although he said he supports 
extending its operating agreement with the federal government. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake