Pubdate: Wed, 05 Mar 2008
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Times Colonist
Author: Steven Edwards, with files from Cindy E. Harnett
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Insite)


VIHA Initiative Specifically Mentioned In New Narcotics Control Board Report

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- The head of the United Nations drug control 
agency put Ottawa on notice yesterday to rein in programs deemed to 
be flouting international drug control treaties -- specifically 
mentioning a Vancouver Island Health Authority plan to hand out 
"safer crack kits."

Speaking just ahead of the release today of the agency's annual 
report, Dr. Philip Emafo signalled the federal government could be 
doing more to make sure Canada respects the agreements.

In the new report, the International Narcotics Control Board calls on 
Canada to ban various community-backed programs that enable illicit 
drug use -- repeating a similar call it made last year.

But local health groups running the programs say they aim to help 
drug abusers kick the habit, or at least not become any sicker. 
They've pushed to keep them operational despite successive INCB calls 
for their closure.

"It cannot go on forever," Emafo, INCB president, said from Vienna.

The new report says Canada should end regional handouts of drug 
paraphernalia, such as clean needles and crack pipes, and close 
injection sites where drug users use illicit drugs under supervision.

In Victoria, AIDS Vancouver Island operates a needle exchange program 
that gives drug users clean syringes. Victoria has also expressed 
interest in its own safe-injection site.

Specifically mentioned in the report is the "safer crack kit" that 
the Vancouver Island Health Authority was giving away in Nanaimo last 
year, but suspended after community opposition.

However, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is looking at adding 
similar kits for distribution throughout B.C. in the coming year.

Ottawa and Toronto are also listed as cities where similar 
distribution programs were under way.

The crack kits typically include a rubber mouthpiece so that the drug 
abuser does not burn his or her mouth and risk infection, as well as 
"push sticks" to prepare the drug for consumption.

Howard Waldner, VIHA's chief executive officer, expects the 
distribution program to expand on the Island after consultation with 
municipalities, police and health authorities about harm reduction strategies.

"I'm confident following dialogue and education we'll come up with a 
plan that makes sense to everybody," Waldner said after a Jan. 30 
board meeting where the issue was discussed.

At the time, he said VIHA's board had not yet made a policy decision 
on how to tailor its distribution of crack-pipe components, which 
could include sterile tubing for the end of crack pipes, as well as 
filters, push sticks and pipes. "It's up to the board to determine 
what aspect of the crack-pipe tool kit it wishes to adopt."

The INCB report says the kits' distribution contravenes an article in 
the 1988 UN anti-drug trafficking convention disallowing government 
trade in drug equipment.

In calling for injection sites to be banned, the report is repeating 
a call made last year that mainly focused on the Vancouver facility. 
INCB has said the facility contravenes a 1961 treaty Canada has 
signed that says countries should pass laws ensuring drugs are used 
only for medical or scientific purposes.

The Conservative government has toughened illicit drug laws through 
its National Anti-Drug Strategy -- but late last year it extended, 
until June 30, a special exemption from federal drug enforcement laws 
for the Insite facility.

Spokespeople for Health Minister Tony Clement did not respond to 
requests yesterday to react to the INCB report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom