Sunday, March 09, 2008

Advocates speak out against UN report

From the Vancouver Province [emphasis added]

Harm-reduction advocates outraged at UN call to shut Insite
By Christina Montgomery, The ProvincePublished: Saturday, March 08, 2008

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 Narcotic Drugs.

The board said the drug programs violate international drug-control treaties to which Canada is a party.

A UN report recommends Vancouver close down Insite and stop handing out clean crack pipes to addicts.

The disposable crack-pipe mouth pieces -- 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.

Sen. 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 down.

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 innovations."

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, told
reporters the report was "driven more by ideology and a war-on-drugs ideology than the research and the scientific evidence that supports these as a public-health intervention."

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