Canada Approves ‘Safe Injection Site’ for Heroin Users in Attempt To Curb HIV Transmission
Health Canada, the nation's health ministry, on Wednesday approved North America's first "safe injection site" for illegal drugs users in Vancouver, British Columbia, in an attempt to stop the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other bloodborne diseases, the Boston Globe reports (Nickerson, Boston Globe, 6/26). At the site, 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/1). The facility, which health officials hope to open by Sept. 1, is federally funded and will include a 12-seat facility for injection drug users to inject drugs as well as a "chill-out" room, in which users can be monitored for overdoses, according to Viviana Zanocco, spokesperson for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which will run the program (Hainsworth, AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/27). Vancouver has one of the highest drug-addiction rates in North America, with as many as 12,000 injection drug users in the Vancouver metropolitan area, 30% of whom are HIV-positive and 90% of whom have hepatitis C (Boston Globe, 6/26). Similar programs founded in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and Germany have been successful at reducing the number of overdose deaths and the spread of disease, but the sites' effect on addiction rates remains unclear, according to addiction specialists (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/27). Critics of the sites -- including John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy -- have said that such programs will encourage heroin use and make Vancouver's heroin problem worse. 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" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/1).
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