Safe injection site still not safe

Friday, May 30, 2008

insite-prepIgnoring all the scientific evidence, Canada Health Minister Tony Clement will move to close Canada's only sanctioned safe-injection site, announcing it will appeal a British Colombia court ruling that Vancouver's Insite should stay open because reducing the risk of drug overdoses is a vital health service.

In his ruling, Justice Ian Pitfield upheld arguments that Insite provided vital health services to addicts by reducing the possibility of drug overdoses, curbing the risk of transmitting infectious diseases and giving users access to counselling that may lead to abstinence. (Read the B.C. Supreme Court's judgment on Insite)

As a result, Insite's injection-drug users have the right to protection from drug laws under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees everyone “life, liberty and security of the person,” the judge found.

Thomas Kerr, director of the urban health research program at the BC Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS, cited the more than 25 peer-reviewed scientific papers that have found, among other things, that the injection site reduces public disorder, overdoses and disease while connecting the users of illegal drugs with avenues for treatment.

Insite has been operating since 2003. Several studies have shown that the facility is effective, with the most recent report being released by a government-appointed expert panel just last month. An expert panel appointed by Canada's national health agency recently concluded that Vancouver's supervised injection site is saving money and lives, increasing access to health care and treatment, and improving public order - all without increasing crime.

Leading nurses, researchers and public health experts implore the Canadian Prime minister not to jeopardize a proven life-saving facility:

Although Clement approves of many of the services offered at Insite, including needle exchanges and condom distribution, and does not want it closed entirely, he wants to shut down the supervised injections.

The federal government argued that there was no constitutional issue at stake because the addicts chose to become drug users; it's their fault they are addicts, and therefore it's irrelevant whether the government chooses to close a clinic that might save their lives. Yet the government acknowledged in court that addiction is an illness. An absurdity, according an editorial in The Globe and Mail.

Meanwhile, Toronto public-health officials say they are going ahead with a long-promised study of the feasibility of safe drug-use sites in the city, even as the federal government says it will appeal a B.C. court ruling that allows Vancouver's controversial safe-injection site to stay open.