9 March 2008
By: Christina Montgomery
Safe Injection Site Violates Treaties, World Body Says
Supporters of Canada’s harm-reduction approach to drug addiction are livid
that a United Nations monitoring body wants Ottawa to slam the door shut
on Vancouver’s safe-injection site — and put an end to distribution of
“safe” crack kits to addicts.
In an annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board released
this week, the UN board said distribution of the kits in some areas of
Canada contravened part of the UN’s Convention against illicit traffic in
The board said the drug programs violate international drug control
treaties to which Canada is a party.
The disposable crack pipe mouthpieces — usually rubber-tipped glass tubes
— are given to addicts to avoid the spread of blood-borne diseases,
including HIV and hepatitis, when addicts share pipes.
Vancouver’s downtown eastside safe-injection site, known as Insite, allows
addicts to inject their own heroin and cocaine under the supervision of a
nurse, who provides them with clean needles.
Medical journals report that Insite, the only facility of its kind in
North America, has reduced overdoses and blood-borne infections.
But five years into operation, the site’s fate is uncertain. It operates
under an exemption from Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act,
which runs out in June. The Conservative government has not said whether
it will extend the exemption.
But the UN report incensed supporters of Insite. Senator Larry Campbell,
a former mayor of Vancouver and a former coroner, called the narcotics
board “stooges for a failed U.S. war on drugs” and told reporters he
would personally block Insite’s doorway if officials tried to close it
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan also dismissed the board’s report by
insisting it simply didn’t understand Insite’s success.
“The way we’ve approached drug addiction worldwide has been a failure,”
Sullivan told reporters. “We need new approaches. We need to be open to
Thomas Kerr, a research scientist at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in
HIV-AIDS, voiced concern that Ottawa would seize on the report as an
excuse to close Insite.
Richard Pearshouse, speaking for the Canadian HIV-AIDS Legal Network, said
the report wasn’t based on “scientific evidence that supports these as a
public health intervention.”