B.C. Safe-Injection Site Wins Police Immunity

B.C. Safe-Injection Site Wins Police Immunity
Posted by CN Staff on June 24, 2003 at 23:58:45 PT
By Rod Mickleburgh
Source: Globe and Mail 
Vancouver  North America's first sanctioned injection site for illegal drug-users could be up and running by September, after Health Canada yesterday granted the proposed venue an unprecedented exemption from police action."This is an opportunity to be the first health authority . . . to establish, scientifically, whether supervised injection sites can improve health outcomes and reduce the harm to drug users," said Heather Hay, the Vancouver Community Director who will oversee the site's operation.
Although funding is not yet in place to cover costs of running the safe injection site, proponents are confident the money will soon be forthcoming now that Health Canada has given the pilot project a green light."We are two-thirds of the way through our renovations and we expect to be ready to open in September," said Viviana Zanocco, media relations officer with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.Ms. Zanocco said the proposed site, located in the heart of the city's drug-ravaged Downtown Eastside, will contain a dozen seats for drug users to shoot up in a clean and safe environment.She said at least one registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and addiction counsellor will be on duty at the site 24 hours a day.The Health Canada exemption covers Section 56 of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. "It means that users can bring their own drugs, heroin or cocaine onto the site and inject them, and police can't arrest them for possession of an illegal substance," Ms. Zanocco said.The goal of the safe injection site, the opening of which has dominated local municipal politics in the city for the past two years, is to reduce the high number of fatal drug overdoses and the transmission of infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.The left-wing COPE municipal party, led by Mayor Larry Campbell, swept into office in the last city election in large measure because of its strong support for safe injection sites on the Downtown Eastside. The previous mayor, Philip Owen, failed to win his party's backing for another run at the office mainly because of his advocacy of safe sites for heroin users.Safe injection sites are part of the government-approved, four pillars approach to improving conditions in the area and trying to combat the terrible toll taken by widespread drug addiction. The other, less controversial pillars are education, enforcement and treatment.Health Canada's exemption had been anticipated for some time. Many believe it was delayed because of strong objections from federal drug authorities in the United States, who are strongly opposed to the idea, and to Canada's plan to reduce penalties for marijuana possession.Safe injection sites have been in place, with generally positive results, in some European cities and Sydney, Australia, for several years."I'm relieved to finally see the exemption come through," said Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, which has led the crusade for safe injection sites on the Downtown Eastside."This is quite a big deal, and it will be an even bigger deal, when it opens. It's so awful what's been going on. If drug users had been considered people, we would have gotten a far more immediate response."Some community groups became so frustrated at the delay, they began operating a rudimentary, unauthorized safe-injection site in early April. It is open from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.The legal, sanctioned site will have an emergency treatment room and areas to conduct research, counselling and care for injection wounds.Ms. Zanocco said it is still hard to believe that the project has won so many proponents. "If you had told me two years ago that we would be operating a safe injection site on the Downtown Eastside, I would have laughed. It's phenomenal the way people have come around on this." Fatal drug overdoses have claimed hundreds of victims in recent years, although lately, the rate of fatalities has been declining.From Wednesday's Globe and Mail.Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)Author: Rod MickleburghPublished: Wednesday, June 25, 2003 Copyright: 2003 The Globe and Mail CompanyContact: letters globeandmail.caWebsite: Articles:Vancouver To Take New Approach for Addicts Canada Panel Pushes 'Safe' Drug Injection Sites
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