May 26, 2019  Last Update: November 27, 2017, 8:52 pm

Harm Reduction Wins, Safe Injection Site Stays

Canadian Supreme Court hands a Win to Harm Reduction

Supervised injection site in Vancouver British Columbia gets support from Canadian Supreme Court.

The Canadian Supreme Court has approved Vancouver’s safe injection site. InSite, the only legal supervised injection site in North America, offers clean needles for injection drug use and health care resources for struggling addicts. This is a rare victory for “harm reduction”.

InSite, and harm reduction in general, lessens the risk and danger associated with drug use. So why is it so controversial? Opponents say it condones drug use. They accuse InSite of making drug use a safe option by offering all the supplies (not the drug itself) and medical assistance a user might need to get a fix.

Advocates for InSite believe street addicts need their help. Used needles litter Vancouver’s Hastings Street and desperate street addicts are quick to salvage these resources. But as they feed their uncontrollable addiction on the streets, HIV/AIDS and other diseases are passed through the dirty needles. InSite’s harm reduction techniques aim to eliminate these risks so addicts may live to see the day when treatment becomes an option.

The Supreme Court has defined addiction as a “disease in which the central feature is impaired control over the use of the addictive substance”. In doing so, they assert that drug use is not a matter of choice for the addicts and they deserve medical assistance. Closing InSite would be a “violation of Charter of Rights and Freedom”.

InSite is a state-of-the-art facility similar to an upscale hair salon. Each softly lit stall curls around the edges of a lounge-like room stocked with all the necessary components for a clean injection: spoon, syringe, matches, filters, elastic band…critics call it a “shooting gallery”.

As addicts inject themselves, a team of nurses and health care staff supervise in case of a complication or overdose. Between 2004 and 2010, over 1418 overdoses occurred at InSite. Not one of those overdoses resulted in death, however, as staff were able to successfully intervene each time.

There has never been a fatality at InSite since opening. In fact, research shows that since InSite opened, overdoses in the vicinity of the site have decreased by 35% - compared to a 9% decrease in the city overall.

The argument over the approval of InSite arises because injection drug use is allowed and the consequences associated with overdose is eliminated. If an addict overdoses there is a guaranteed reset button and the addict is back to satisfying cravings to the point of overdose again. Will addicts ever need to pursue change?

Canada has set a new precedent by keeping InSite in business,. How long before safe injection sites are open across the nation, the US, and the World?

Note: InSite is funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates the facility in conjunction with PHS Community Services Society. Health Canada has provided $500,000 per year to operate the site and the BC Ministry of Health contributed $1,200,000 to renovate the site and cover operating costs.

  • Vancouver’s Supervised injection Site: InSite
  • Harm Reduction Coalition website: information and publications

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