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Canada's Health Ministry: Supervised Injection Site Has Positive Impact, Saves Lives

Canada's federal health ministry, Health Canada, published a new review of Insite, the sanitary injection center in Vancouver, BC, showing several positive and no negative impacts.

According to the Vancouver Sun ("Health Canada Panel Gives Injection Site Favorourable Review," April 12, 2008), "Vancouver's much-debated supervised injection site for drug users is well supported by the community, provides as much as $4 in benefits for every dollar spent, doesn't cause increased drug use, doesn't appear to affect crime rates, encourages users to get treatment, and saves at least one person a year from dying of a drug overdose. Those were some of the generally positive conclusions, made public late Friday, of an expert advisory committee appointed by Health Canada. The committee was appointed last year to review existing research on Insite, as well as new studies commissioned, including one by Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd on public order."

The positive conclusions had not been anticipated. As the Sun reported, "The committee's work was viewed with apprehension by local advocates of the injection site as an effort by Health Minister Tony Clement to look for negative information about the site in order to be able to shut it down, in spite of numerous positive evaluations by the Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. But the committee of experts in addictions, mental health, and criminology found that the evidence about the site's impacts was generally favourable, although the experts did say they weren't certain that conclusions about the site's impact on reducing HIV infection were valid. The report also suggested other types of research that could be done and it noted the limitations of existing studies."

According to the Sun, "Mayor Sam Sullivan, researchers and advocates see the committee's review as generally positive. 'I think this makes it clear the site is not part of the problem, it's part of the solution," said Sullivan. "It's also clear it doesn't solve all the problems, since only five per cent of injections are there, but I was very pleased with some of the other observations, that it had helped people get to treatment and had facilitated vaccinations [for pneumonia].' Researcher Dr. Thomas Kerr agreed. 'Overall, the report is very positive and confirms our research that the site is doing what it's supposed to do -- provide health benefits without increasing harm,' said Kerr, a researcher with the Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS. 'Now it's time for the federal government to honour the findings and stop asking if this program should remain open.'"

The Sun noted that "The site currently has a federal exemption from narcotics laws that goes to June 30 and allows the use of illegal drugs on the premises. Rita Smith, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Clement's office, said a decision on whether to extend that exemption will be made between now and June 30. However, the Vancouver Police Union issued a statement late Friday saying the review committee's report suggests that the site costs a lot to run and serves only a tiny minority, doing little to reduce infection rates or overdose deaths. Union president Tom Stamatakis called it a 'well-intentioned but expensive failure.' Stamatakis's view was at odds with the generally positive public opinion that was highlighted in Boyd's study. He found that 80 per cent of a select group of police officers, business owners, residents and service providers in the Downtown Eastside thought the site should be expanded or retained. Just over half of the 20 police officers interviewed had that opinion. 'It was certainly interesting for us to see the level of support for Insite,' said Boyd."

A full copy of the Health Canada report is available by clicking here or by going to the Health Canada website.

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