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Closing of Vancouver Supervised Injection Site would be a Step Back into the Dark-Ages for Canadian Drug Policy

Closing of Vancouver Supervised Injection Site would be a Step Back into the Dark-Ages for Canadian Drug Policy 27 July 2006

Think Tank urges Canadian Government to open more injection sites in Canada

“These Centres Save Lives and are cost-effective” says think tank director
LONDON– ICOS, an international security and development think tank, warned today that the proposed closure of the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver would be a major step backwards both for Canada and its drug policy. The Council said that instead of contemplating the closure of Insite, given its obvious success, Canada should consider opening more such Centres.

“Canada showed courage, initiative and forward thinking when Insite was opened in September 2003,” said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of ICOS. “The Canadian government should not even consider putting an end to what has proved to be one of the most successful ways of dealing with Canada’s drug problem, of which the city of Vancouver in particular is one of the main victims.”

Other countries are following Canada’s example

ICOS said that as Canada considers closing down its safe injection site, in the meantime, other countries are thinking of opening them. Studies are underway in the UK to open a safe injection site based on the good results from the 60 centres in 40 countries around the world.

“Safe injection sites have been in existence for more than a decade with very positive results,” said Mr Philip Owen, former Mayor of Vancouver. “They considerably reduce the spread of infectious disease, overdose deaths and drug-related crime within a community of drug users who are otherwise unable to manage their addiction.”

Spread of HIV/AIDS reduced

In a Report published in May by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in Britain, it was reported that drug consumption rooms had an important impact on decreasing the drug-related health risks, anti-social behaviour and damage linked to drug consumption in public spaces. An independent study of the effectiveness of Insite by the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS has recently reached the same conclusions.

“Insite has gone a long way in protecting drug users from death and disease, as well as protecting the community at large from drug-related damage,” said Mr Owen. “It is vital that such serious health and social issues be tackled with rational and effective policies.”

Less harm to the community

Areas surrounding Insite have seen a significant fall in discarded needles in public places, as well as a drop in users injecting drugs in public. Drug users can dispose of their used equipment safely, thus preventing potentially infected syringes to be left in public places. Medical staff are at hand should users require emergency treatment. Counselling services are also readily available to provide guidance and support for those users who seek help.

More cost-effective

ICOS said that safe injection sites do not only provide the way forward in terms of healthcare – they also reduce the financial burden for tax-payers: They reduce health care costs because drug users no longer take so many health risks whilst administering their drugs; hospital and emergency services are less burdened with overdoses and other drug related expenses and legal, law-enforcement and incarceration costs are considerably reduced.

“The enormous cost of HIV and Hepatitis C infected patients is reduced each time that a new infection is prevented,” said Reinert.

At the Centre’s opening, it was estimated that if just 10 people were prevented from contracting HIV because of the site, it would have paid for itself.

Canadian Government must protect its citizens

ICOS said that the Canadian government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, and drug consumption rooms are key in addressing rising HIV rates in the drug-injecting community. The spread of HIV can be largely contained by providing users with a safe and clean environment in which to inject, along with sterile equipment and clean needles. Drug consumption rooms have been shown to prevent needle-sharing and improve the health of their users, without increasing drug use or crime in the surrounding areas.

“With this glowing balance sheet, surely it would be more appropriate for Mr Harper to be asking how many new safe injection sites Canada should open, rather than whether or not Vancouver’s Insite should be closed down or not?” said Reinert.

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