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Vancouver drug injection site gets six-month extension

National Post, Oct. 2, 2007

by Allan Dowd, CanWest News Service

VANCOUVER -- The Canadian government said Tuesday it will allow North America's only sanctioned injection site for drug addicts to remain open until mid-2008 to allow more research on its impact.

Vancouver's Insite facility had faced closure at the end of the year, but Health Minister Tony Clement notified the local health authority that the injection site can stay open until June 30, 2008.

The facility, which opened in 2003 as part of a research project in the Vancouver's poor, drug-infested Downtown Eastside neighborhood, needs an exemption from Canada's drug laws to remain in operation.

The federal government has been weighing Insite's long-term future, and the six-month extension will allow continued research on its impact on efforts to promote drug treatment programs and reduce crime, Clement said.

Addicts using drugs such as heroin and cocaine are given clean needles to inject themselves at the facility in a room supervised by a nurse. After shooting up, they go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the street.

Insite, which is modelled on similar facilities in Europe, receives more than 600 addict visits daily.

Insite's supporters, including Vancouver police, say studies have already shown it has prevented overdose deaths and helped get addicts into treatment. They say it also has slowed the sharing of needles, which is how AIDS and other diseases are often spread.

The supporters say those results show the facility should be allowed to remain open permanently.

But critics, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have complained the Canadian government should not be sanctioning the use of illegal drugs. The U.S. government has complained that Insite is a weak link in Canada's anti-drug efforts.

Questions about Insite's fate had been fueled by the government's announcement last weekend that it was ready to unveil a new national drug strategy expected to emphasize a tougher stand on illegal drug use.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which oversees the facility, was pleased with the announcement and ready to supply federal officials with any additional information they need, spokeswoman Viviana Zanocco said.

Health Canada asked in April for new studies on issues such as the impact on the local community.

Victoria has said it also wants permission to establish a drug injection facility, but the federal government has ruled out setting up any new sites until the research in Vancouver is completed.

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