Health Canada panel gives injection site favourable review
Source: The Vancouver Sun (Canada)
April 12, 2008
By: Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun
Vancouver’s much-debated supervised injection site for drug users is
well supported by the community, provides as much as $4 in benefits for
every dollar spent, doesn’t cause increased drug use, doesn’t appear to
affect crime rates, encourages users to get treatment, and saves at
least one person a year from dying of a drug overdose.
Those were some of the generally positive conclusions, made public late
Friday, of an expert advisory committee appointed by Health Canada.
The committee was appointed last year to review existing research on
Insite, as well as new studies commissioned, including one by Simon
Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd on public order.
The committee’s work was viewed with apprehension by local advocates of
the injection site as an effort by Health Minister Tony Clement to look
for negative information about the site in order to be able to shut it
down, in spite of numerous positive evaluations by the Centre for
Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
But the committee of experts in addictions, mental health, and
criminology found that the evidence about the site’s impacts was
generally favourable, although the experts did say they weren’t certain
that conclusions about the site’s impact on reducing HIV infection were
valid. The report also suggested other types of research that could be
done and it noted the limitations of existing studies.
The members agreed that the site serves about 8,000 people, although
their visits account for less than five per cent of all injections in
the Downtown Eastside.
“This limits the likelihood of significant direct impact from Insite in
the Downtown Eastside,” said the report.
But Mayor Sam Sullivan, researchers and advocates see the committee’s
review as generally positive.
“I think this makes it clear the site is not part of the problem, it’s
part of the solution,” said Sullivan. “It’s also clear it doesn’t solve
all the problems, since only five per cent of injections are there, but
I was very pleased with some of the other observations, that it had
helped people get to treatment and had facilitated vaccinations [for
Researcher Dr. Thomas Kerr agreed.
“Overall, the report is very positive and confirms our research that the
site is doing what it’s supposed to do — provide health benefits
without increasing harm,” said Kerr, a researcher with the Centre for
Excellence on HIV/AIDS. “Now it’s time for the federal government to
honour the findings and stop asking if this program should remain open.”
The site currently has a federal exemption from narcotics laws that goes
to June 30 and allows the use of illegal drugs on the premises. Rita
Smith, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Clement’s office, said a
decision on whether to extend that exemption will be made between now
and June 30.
However, the Vancouver Police Union issued a statement late Friday
saying the review committee’s report suggests that the site costs a lot
to run and serves only a tiny minority, doing little to reduce infection
rates or overdose deaths.
Union president Tom Stamatakis called it a “well-intentioned but
Stamatakis’s view was at odds with the generally positive public opinion
that was highlighted in Boyd’s study. He found that 80 per cent of a
select group of police officers, business owners, residents and service
providers in the Downtown Eastside thought the site should be expanded
or retained. Just over half of the 20 police officers interviewed had
“It was certainly interesting for us to see the level of support for
Insite,” said Boyd.
His team’s original research on calls for service in the area indicated
that the site appeared to have no impact on drug dealing or crime in the
For the full report see Frances Bula’s blog.
[Final report of the Expert Advisory Committee on Supervised Injection
Site Research, March 31, 2008