Pubdate: Mon, 18 Apr 2011
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2011 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Carmen Chai, Postmedia News
Bookmark: (Insite)
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)


With a Supreme Court of Canada case looming this summer that could 
decide its future, Vancouver's safe-injection drug site has received 
an extra shot in the arm from a new report that says it has helped 
reduce the number of fatal overdoses by 35%.

The report, compiled by Canadian scientists from the Urban Health 
Research Initiative, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and 
St. Paul's Hospital, goes on to argue that Vancouver's Insite - the 
country's first safe-injection facility - should be replicated in 
other North American cities where drug use is a common problem.

The team's findings and recommendations were published Sunday in the 
medical journal The Lancet.

With help from the provincial coroner's service, the researchers 
gathered data on every drug-related overdose death that occurred in 
the city between 2001 and 2005. Using a technique called geocoding, 
the researchers tracked where each death occurred and marked how far 
it was from a safe-injection site. They studied the population-based 
overdose mortality rate before Insite launched in 2003 and after from 
2003 to 2005 to compare fatality rates within a 500-metre radius of 
the site to the rest of the city.

Results showed 31% of 290 overdose deaths occurred in the city blocks 
closest to facility. Once it opened, fatality rates in this area 
decreased by 35% to 165 deaths from 254 per 100,000 people each year. 
Fatal overdose rates in the rest of the city once the site opened 
decreased by only 9%.

"Our results suggest that [safeinjection facilities] are an effective 
intervention to reduce community overdose mortality in Canada and in 
other cities internationally and should be considered for assessment 
particularly in communities with high levels of injection drug use," 
Thomas Kerr, co-director addiction research at the B.C. Centre for 
Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and his colleagues wrote in the report.

Insite was set up in 2003 in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside so drug 
addicts could inject drugs safely, with sterile needles. They also 
receive addiction treatment, mental health assistance and first aid.

The region is notorious for its open drug market, HIV epidemic and 
large numbers of homeless people.

Other medical studies have also argued the clinic protects drug 
addicts from overdosing.

The Conservative federal government has been seen as keen on shutting 
down the facility, because of what critics have alleged are 
ideological differences with the Tories' "tough-on-crime"policies.

In May, the Supreme Court of Canada will decide if the Vancouver 
facility will stay open, potentially settling a jurisdictional 
dispute over the site between the federal and provincial governments.

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in 2010 that the facility falls under 
provincial jurisdiction over health care so federal officials did not 
have the authority to shut it down. Ottawa appealed the decision.

In 2008, the B.C. court also decided that closing a health-care 
facility that saves lives violates the Charter of Rights guarantee to 
life, liberty and security of the person.

Mr. Kerr, the report author, notes there are more than 65 
safe-injection sites around the world where drug users can inject 
pre-obtained illegal drugs to help reduce risks involved with drug 
use, such as sharing needles and overdosing.