Thursday, August 31, 2006

Recent update

From the Globe and Mail, Aug. 31, 2006
Safe-injection-site supporters demand answers from Ottawa
With deadline looming, Ottawa says fate of Insite facility to be announced 'shortly'

VANCOUVER -- The federal government was urged yesterday to stop delaying its decision about whether to permit a safe-injection facility in Vancouver to continue operating after Sept. 12.

"It is getting kind of late in the game," said Thomas Kerr, a scientist at the B.C. Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS, who has conducted a number of scientific studies about the impact and effectiveness of the Insite facility.

"We have a community that is waiting to find out what is going to happen. We have a large research staff that is wondering whether they are going to continue gathering data in two weeks," Dr. Kerr said. "What we need is an answer."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a few blocks from the news conference held by supporters of Insite and declined to provide that answer, even though the facility's exemption from the country's drug laws expires in less than two weeks.

"The safe-injection site decision is the Health Minister's decision," Mr. Harper said after announcing a federal funding commitment for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"I won't be announcing anything myself on that, on this trip. I anticipate he [Health Minister Tony Clement] will be making an announcement on that very shortly."

The Health Minister travelled to Sweden last week and is believed to have spoken to drug policy officials in that country about the merits of safe-injection sites.

"It is kind of a curious choice because Sweden has no experience with these facilities," Dr. Kerr said. "We don't need to go to Sweden to look for these answers. We have the Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Coastal Health and many community organizations doing some of the most innovative work in the world."

The pilot project, which has operated for the past three years, permits addicts to inject their drugs in clean surroundings, supervised by trained staff.

The continued operation of the Insite facility has been endorsed by the chief of police in Vancouver, Mayor Sam Sullivan, community leaders and four former mayors.

With the deadline looming for the federal government to make a decision about the site, the RCMP issued a news release this week that said it had concerns and called for more scientific research.

Dr. Kerr explained that there have been 15 scientific studies about the impact of the site and many have been published in prestigious journals such as The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine.

"My great disappointment is that the RCMP has failed to acknowledge scientific evidence that the international scientific community has endorsed and accepted," he said.

He noted that the RCMP commissioned two reports from criminologists about the community impact of the safe-injection facility, which were favourable. "Yet we are not hearing about those reports," Dr. Kerr said. "I think it's time to acknowledge that this is a simple medical intervention. A sterile injection is better than an unsterile injection."

Susie Ruttan, a teacher whose son is recovering from drug addiction, also praised the Insite facility. "It just comes down to saving lives. What can possibly be argued against that?"

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