U.S. Officials Critical of Vancouver’s ‘Safe-Injection Sites’ for Heroin Users; Health Workers Say Sites Could Reduce HIV Transmission
U.S. officials have expressed concern over the opening of the first North American "safe-injection site" for heroin users in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Wall Street Journal reports. Health workers and Canadian lawmakers have said that such sites will help prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among drug users and will help prevent deaths among heroin users. At the sites, drug users receive clean needles, tourniquets, water and cotton balls, and a nurse supervises drug users' activities and provides them with referrals to detox centers and homeless shelters. However, critics of the sites -- including John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy -- said that they will "encourage heroin addiction" and make Vancouver's heroin problem worse, according to the Journal. Walters, who said he has concerns about Canada becoming "a major drug producer," has referred to the safe-injection sites as "state-sponsored personal suicide." The Bush administration is already "fuming" over Canadian laws that allow some chronically ill individuals to have legal access to marijuana, which can be used to ease nausea, pain and other symptoms commonly associated with terminal or chronic illnesses. "If I thought tripling the police force would solve this problem, I would do it," Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell said, adding, "But that's not the case. We're dealing with addiction and disease. And prison doesn't solve either of those problems." Vancouver's first safe-injection site operates out of an HIV/AIDS clinic, and the city hopes to open a second site by the summer. According to city estimates, there are approximately 12,000 injection drug users in Vancouver, 40% of whom are HIV-positive and 90% of whom have hepatitis C. Although the number of new HIV cases in the city has been reduced by 50% since 1993, the city still averages 250 new HIV cases per year -- the highest rate among all Canadian cities (Baglole, Wall Street Journal, 4/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.