Pubdate: Fri, 30 May 2008
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Glenn Kauth


Despite federal government opposition, Edmonton should  consider a
safe-injection site for drug users, the head  of a downtown
needle-exchange program says.

"We absolutely support Insite and think that type of  safe-injection
site should be available across the  country, including Edmonton,"
said Street Works program  manager Marliss Taylor.

The comments come after the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in  support of
Insite, a Vancouver program that allows  users to bring in their own
drugs to inject under the  watch of medical staff. In his decision,
Justice Ian  Pitfield ruled it would violate users' constitutional
rights to deny them services to treat their addictions.  As a result,
he struck down laws against drug use at  supervised-injection sites.

This week, Health Minister Tony Clement said he'll ask  Justice
Minister Rob Nicholson to appeal the B.C.  ruling. Among his concerns
with Insite, he cited data  that suggests the program saves just one
life a year  from overdose.

"A better thing to do is to treat people, to prevent  people from
going on the drugs in first place," he  said.

For Taylor, the federal move wasn't unexpected.

"There's a strong ideological drive, so I'm not  surprised that they
appealed," she said.

In Edmonton, officials, including Mayor Stephen Mandel,  have
occasionally raised the possibility of a  supervised-injection site
here, particularly in light  of evidence that such programs help
prevent overdoses,  steer addicts into treatment and cut down on
disease  transmission.

A recent poll conducted for the Canada West Foundation  indicated the
idea of a safe-injection site has  significant public support.
According to the survey,  47% of Edmontonians think having a program
here is a  good idea.

At Capital Health, associate medical officer of health  Dr. James
Talbot says officials are watching  developments in Vancouver
carefully but notes that  having a program in Edmonton hasn't been an
option  since a federal exemption from drug laws applied only  to
Insite. Still, he said research so far has been  "fairly convincing
that the safe-injection site does  have benefits for the community it

Taylor, however, said that while she believes Edmonton  should have a
program, the city needs to meet more  basic needs first. The Street
Works needle-exchange  program, for example, runs its van only five
evenings a  week within the downtown core. With a growing homeless
population leading to more public drug use, expanding  the service
should be a priority, she argued.

"As homelessness becomes a bigger and bigger issue, the  result is
that we have a lot more people injecting in  public because they don't
have a place to go," said  Taylor.
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