Safe injection site’s operational future in jeopardy

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Vancouver’s Insite receives one-year renewal

By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer

On March 25, Parliament passed the “Respect For Communities Act,” or Bill C-2. This amendment creates further regulations in allowing supervised drug consumption sites across the country.

Insite, located in the Downtown Eastside, is the first and the only legal supervised injection site in North America. The facility is operated by Vancouver Coastal Health and the Portland Hotel Society. The centre provides a healthy and supervised environment for intravenous drug users. Insite also provides access to medical staff, needles, and resources aimed at education, harm reduction, and detox or primary health care.

Doctor Patricia Daly, chief medical officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, expressed concern over the new regulations in a media statement:

“[Vancouver Coastal Health] is troubled by the numerous conditions set out in the new legislation, which will make it much more difficult for Insite to apply for an exemption in the future, and near impossible for a new supervised injection site to receive exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.”

Insite recently received a Health Canada exemption allowing it a one-year renewal. The site will continue to operate until March 31, 2016, at which point the application will have to be renewed. Analysis of the new laws show that Insite’s ability to continue operating under the current government in the future will be difficult. In addition, future safe-injection sites will also be hindered in their ability to open. Proposed current or future supervised injection sites will be up to the discretion of Canada’s Minister of Health.

Studies and analyses of Insite’s activities provide support in regard to its effect on harm reduction and public safety. On average, its services prevent three deaths, 35 HIV infections, and hundreds of overdoses amongst drug users every year. This is done through education about safe limits, provision of sterilized drug equipment such as needles, and medical staff on site to treat overdoses.

Controversy over Insite has been rampant since its opening in 2003, particularly by Canada’s Conservative government. As Insite is a non-profit healthcare organization, it receives funding from both the BC Ministry of Health and Health Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quoted in the past stating, “We as a government will not use taxpayer’s money to fund drug use.”

Despite its controversial status, public support of Insite has been positive. Polls show that 76 per cent of Vancouver residents support the facility, and 63 per cent of Canadians believe the federal government should renew Insite’s licence.

Insite has had 1.8-million injections supervised by nurses since its opening in 2003. In that time, there has not been an overdose-related death on the premises.

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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