Sunday, September 17, 2006

From the Globe and Mail, Sept. 11th, 2006

Setback not stopping injection-site plans
Victoria, Prince George ready proposals despite limited extension in Vancouver

VANCOUVER -- Officials in Victoria and Prince George say they still hope to open supervised injection sites in their cities soon, despite the federal government's limited extension for the Vancouver facility.

Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe said it's regrettable that Health Canada will not consider any new applications for injection sites until Ottawa reviews the effectiveness of Vancouver's Insite clinic. But he said his city still intends to submit its proposal by early next year, adding that Victoria would learn from the Vancouver experience.

"The Insite project in Vancouver has proved to be successful, and a facility similar to that will be beneficial to Victoria, but I also agree with the Canadian Police Association that you cannot rely on the supervised injection site alone. In Vancouver, they only focused on the supervised injection site and I think there are fears that the other pillars aren't getting the same focus."

Last week, the Canadian Police Association said the federal government should close Insite and focus on education, enforcement and treatment. A few hours later, federal Health Minister Tony Clement announced he would keep the site open until December, 2007, but was unable to approve a request to keep it open another 3½ years.

More research needs to be done about whether the site is achieving results, he said.

The province provides most of the funds for the injection site but Ottawa must provide an exemption from federal drug laws so that addicts can take drugs inside without fear of being arrested.

Insite, the first such facility in North America, accommodates more than 600 drug users a day.

The main argument in favour of supervised injection sites is that they reduce the number of overdoses and curb the rate of HIV and hepatitis-C infections.

Victoria wants to set up a number of smaller injection sites in its downtown, which is more compact than Vancouver's, rather than a single facility like the one operating in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Prince George would also like to set up a supervised injection site in its downtown core. The city has a big hepatitis-C problem and HIV rates have skyrocketed in recent years.

Lorna Medd, chief medical health officer for the Northern Health Authority, said the immediate concerns are increasing hours and staffing of a needle exchange and getting a mobile van on the road.

"We've been watching what the process has been with the long hard look at the safe injection site in Vancouver and we're feeling if there isn't a long-term solution in Vancouver it will be a difficult thing for Prince George," she said.

Dr. Medd said despite the setback in Vancouver, she and other members of the community in Prince George are still proceeding with developing a plan to open a supervised injection site.

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