North America’s first Safe Injection Site could be in jeopardy. InSite began as a three-year study in September of 2003, and legally operates due to an exemption by Health Canada under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. If the federal Minister of Health, Tony Clement, does not renew this exemption, the facility will shut down as of September 12, 2006. This would create a destabilizing and harmful impact, as InSite has proven to be successful in reducing the harm associated with drug use, and improving community safety and health in the Downtown Eastside.
The evidence of InSite’s success in reducing harm speaks for itself. This program has led to an increase in drug users entering detoxification programs and addiction treatment (New England Journal of Medicine), has attracted the highest risk users most vulnerable to HIV infection (American Journal of Preventative Medicine), and most importantly, an estimated 453 drug overdoses has resulted in zero fatalities thanks to the expertise of health professionals at the facility. On the issue of crime, InSite has not led to increases in drug trafficking, assaults, or robbery, and has seen a decline in vehicle break-ins and theft (Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy). It has also reduced public injections and syringe disposals, improving the overall public order for the community as a whole (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
InSite is part of the city of Vancouver’s comprehensive “Four Pillars” Drug Strategy: harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Many prominent individuals and groups have come out in support of this program, including Mayor Sam Sullivan, Senator Larry Campbell, the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association, and the Chief Constable of the City of Vancouver Police Department.
As the evidence on InSite’s success continues to grow, more and more people from across Vancouver, and indeed, across Canada, are realizing the benefits of this harm reduction program, and in many cases, demanding similar programs in their own communities. InSite has proven to be an essential tool for saving lives, reducing disease and crime, and improving the overall community in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I urge the Health Minister to look at the evidence and ensure this program is continued. If this facility is shut down, it will have a serious negative impact on the community and local businesses. I call on the Minister to make the right decision, and renew the exemption so that Insite can continue to help the people of Vancouver deal with the problems associated with drug use.