Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fate of safe-injection site remains up in the air

National News
Fate of safe-injection site remains up in the air
490 words
3 October 2007
The Globe and Mail
2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

VANCOUVER -- The federal Health Minister has cleared Vancouver's safe-injection site to operate for another six months, but critics say the decision announced yesterday does nothing to clear up uncertainty about the fate of the controversial operation that provides a safe place for drug addicts to use heroin or cocaine.

In a terse statement, Tony Clement said he would allow Insite a continued exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows the use of otherwise illegal drugs by clients at the facility in the poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside.

The extension runs until June 30, 2008. “[It] will allow research on how supervised injection sites affect prevention, treatment and crime to be continued for another six months,” the statement said.

The minister was not available for comment. His press secretary, Laryssa Waler, would only refer to the statement's point about additional research when asked for further comment.
Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said he thought enough research had already been done on Insite, which opened in 2003.

Insite has been credited with helping to reduce overdoses and drug-related disease. Clients bring their own drugs to the site with a freedom allowed by the exemption Mr. Clement has renewed for the second time. The B.C. government finances the program.

In comments that reflect a broad consensus of support, Premier Gordon Campbell earlier this week urged the Tories to maintain Insite, calling it “part of the solution” to issues of drug addiction.

Mark Townsend, a community worker for the Portland Hotel Society, which operates Insite in partnership with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said the uncertainty is a stress for clients, staff and medical officials working with the operation.

“It's like constantly debating the same tiny speck of dust,” Mr. Townsend said. “It's stressful on the ground for the human beings, the doctors and nurses involved with it. It's stressful for the people who work in the bureaucracy and care about people on the ground and are trying to put together programs that help people.

“The clients do get stressed about it as well. It's like you're constantly about to be fired from your job.”

Mr. Townsend echoed the view of many observers, including NDP and Liberal MPs in Vancouver, that the Tories are reluctant to shut down Insite while an election is possible, so they have put the issue on ice for now.

Libby Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver East, said the Tories are “playing politics” with an important community asset, central to helping protect drug users from disease, overdoses and other harm. Insite is located in Ms. Davies's riding.

She predicted a community fight to save the facility. “People know they will have to gear up for another campaign to keep Insite going,” she said.

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