Vancouver Opens First Authorized Drug Injection Site in Attempt To Curb HIV, Hepatitis C Transmission
North America's first authorized drug injection site for illegal drug users, which supporters say will help curb the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, held its official opening on Monday in Vancouver, Canada, Reuters reports (Dowd, Reuters, 9/15). The government-funded facility includes 12 booths 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. 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, 6/30). The center, which will cost $1.46 million a year to run, will be open 18 hours a day and is expected to be used by up to 800 injection drugs users each day. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the Portland Hotel Society will co-manage the site, and Evan Wood and Mark Tyndall of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS will evaluate the project (O'Brian, Vancouver Sun, 9/15). The center is expected to open to drug users in approximately one week (Yearwood-Lee, Canadian Press, 9/15).
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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/30). In the Downtown Eastside neighborhood where the clinic is located, officials estimate that 4,700 of the 16,000 residents are injection drugs users and that up to 40% of those drug users are HIV-positive (Reuters, 9/15). 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/30). "We're never ever going to cure drug addiction. But what we can do is help those who have that addiction stay alive," Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell said. John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy has described the facility as "state-sponsored ... suicide," saying that it will encourage people to continue using illegal drugs (Reuters, 9/15).