Canadian Health Ministry Extends Exemption for Supervised Drug-Injection Facility in Vancouver Until June 2008Health Canada, the country's health ministry, on Tuesday announced it would extend until June 2008 an exemption from Canada's drug law to allow the supervised drug-injection facility Insite in Vancouver to remain open, Reuters reports. The facility is the only sanctioned site for injection drug users in North America (Dowd, Reuters, 10/2).
The site, which is funded by the provincial government and has received research funding from the Canadian government, includes 12 booths for IDUs to inject drugs as well as a "chill-out" room, in which users can be monitored for overdoses. 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. Vancouver has one of the highest illegal drug use rates in North America, with as many as 12,000 IDUs in the Vancouver metropolitan area, 30% of whom are HIV-positive and 90% of whom have hepatitis C (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/6/06).
The facility, which opened in September 2003, received a three-year exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to conduct a pilot study on the site's role in reducing drug use and crime in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, CP/CNews reports. The act bans heroin use. Health Minister Tony Clement last year said he could not approve a request to extend the program for another three-and-a-half years. However, he granted an extension for the site to remain open until the end of 2007 to conduct further research. Jirina Vlk, acting head of communications for Health Canada, said the most recent extension is for the "purposes of research into the impact of such sites on prevention, treatment and crime."
According to the CP/CNews, several studies conducted about Insite since its inception have shown that IDUs who participate in the program are more likely to register for detoxification programs, more likely to start methadone replacement programs and decrease their number of monthly visits to the facility to inject drugs.
Mark Townsend of the Portland Hotel Society, which runs Insite, called Clement's announcement a distraction from the real problems facing IDUs in the city. "We've got people that are sick, people that are dying, mentally ill people living in crummy hotels," he said, adding that the Prime Minister Stephen Harper "is out there trying to find a researcher that will tell him the world is flat, so he's got an excuse to cut" the program (Levitz, CP/CNews, 10/2). "This is the second time that the federal government has stalled on this decision and said that more research is needed," Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said, adding, "But the fact is, Minister Clement is asking questions that have already been answered and calling for research that's already been done" (Reuters, 10/2).