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Jan-17-2010 19:34printcomments

Vancouver, B. C. Drug Injection Site Gets More Court Support

InSite serves more than 7,200 registered clients with 15,000 to 20,000 visits each month.


Courtesy: opiated.wordpress.com

(CALGARY, Alberta) - Control over controlled substances is gradually starting to loosen up across North America. The various reports on medical marijuana being legalized in different U.S. jurisdictions plus California at least talking about legalizing and taxing it, are encouraging signs that a cultural shift has begun.

Since 2003, InSite, has been a safe, health-focused place where people can go to inject drugs and connect to health care services–from primary care to treat disease and infection, to addiction counselling and treatment. Operated by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Portland Hotel Society Community Services (PHS), it’s North America’s first legal, and so far only, supervised injection site.

InSite was designed to serve:

  • injection drug users who are not well connected to health care services
  • men and women who use more than one drug
  • people who experience both addiction and mental illness
  • people with a history of trauma
  • people who are homeless, live in shelters or live in substandard housing;
  • men and women of Aboriginal descent
  • people who have tried unsuccessfully in the past to beat their drug addiction

Operating under a constitutional waiver to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the BC Ministry of Health provides funding through Vancouver Coastal Health.

InSite serves more than 7,200 registered clients with 15,000 to 20,000 visits each month–all active intravenous users at the highest risk for HIV transmission and overdose. Insite has now been providing vital health care and referral services to drug users in Vancouver's downtown eastside, probably the most depressed city neighborhood in the country—perhaps in all of North America.

While the B. C. Liberal government allowed Insite to open, since 2006 its fate has been the responsibility of the federal Conservative government, which has not been supportive. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has voiced opposition to the injection site in the past, saying that "We as a government will not use taxpayers' money to fund drug use. Harper, wrote Ernest Drucker in 2006 in the Harm Reduction Journal is “a conservative who has traveled to the US to visit George W. Bush and come back to Ottawa hostile to harm reduction in all its forms–a sentiment that originates in Washington DC and appears to function as a loyalty test for international drug policies worldwide.”

The Harm Reduction Journal reported these research results in 2006, after InSite had been operating for three years.

  • InSite is leading to increased admissions to local detoxification programs and addiction treatment.
  • InSite has not led to an increase in drug-related crime, rates of arrest for drug trafficking, assaults and robbery were similar after the facility's opening, and rates of vehicle break-ins/theft declined significantly.
  • InSite has reduced the number of people injecting in public and the amount of injection-related litter in the downtown eastside.
  • InSite is attracting the highest-risk users – those more likely to be vulnerable to HIV infection and overdose, and who were contributing to problems of public drug use and unsafe syringe disposal.
  • InSite has reduced overall rates of needle sharing in the community, and among those who used the supervised injection site for some, most or all of their injections, 70% were less likely to report syringe sharing.
  • Nearly one-third of InSite users received information relating to safer injecting practices. Those who received help injecting from fellow injection drug users on the streets were more than twice as likely to have received safer injecting education at InSite.
  • InSite is not increasing rates of relapse among former drug users, nor is it a negative influence on those seeking to stop drug use.

In May 2008, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down sections of the Canadian Criminal Code prohibiting drug trafficking and possession, ruling that they contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This decision gave Insite legal grounds to continue operating.

Further court support has materialized.

On January 15, 2010, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld InSite’s right to operate. One of the three judges dissented.

Comparing a "supervised injection site" where drug addicts consume heroin, cocaine and crystal methamphetamine to a hospital, the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed a federal government challenge aimed at closing the facility.

Madam Justice Carol Huddart wrote that InSite "provides a health-care program" that is provincially funded and supported by B.C.'s Attorney-General, the regional health authority, the Vancouver Police Department and other local stakeholders. She went on to say:

The provision of health-care services is what makes a hospital a hospital, what makes health care a provincially regulated activity. It is the indisputable intrusion of the federal government into the provision of medical services at the level of doctor and patient that is happening at Insite. Could Parliament legislate to effectively prohibit a doctor from using a scalpel?

Madam Justice Anne Rowles agreed. The third Appeal Court member, Madam Justice Daphne Smith, dissented. In cases where federal law and provincial activity conflict, she found that the application of "paramountcy" applies and the federal law has priority.

The Harper government is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. In the meantime, Insite will remain open.

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Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place




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Peter January 18, 2010 12:48 pm (Pacific time)

Seriously how long can you keep going to insight. Do you have regulare guests, perhaps get special discounts or incentives. Life isgood

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