Canadian Press (06.24.2013)
The British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS reported a 15-year study demonstrated that a harm reduction initiative reduced drug use and improved public safety in an impoverished area of Vancouver. When the study began in 1996, the community had the “highest rates of HIV infection” outside of sub-Saharan Africa and high mortality from drug overdose.
Vancouver adopted a public health approach that included opening a supervised drug injection site (Insite) in 2003. Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-author of the report and co-director of the Centre’s Urban Health Research Initiative, stated that the percentage of drug users sharing needles had declined from 40 percent in 1996 to 1.7 percent in 2011, which resulted in lower incidence of HIV and hepatitis C due to sharing needles. About one quarter of Vancouver drug users were HIV-infected; approximately 90 percent had hepatitis C. Data also indicated that more drug users were taking advantage of addiction treatment programs; only 12 percent of users were on methadone in 1996 compared to 54.5 percent in 2008. Although the report found less drug use in the community, illegal drugs are still widely available in Vancouver, and mortality among drug users remains eight times higher than the general population.
Opponents include Canada’s Conservative party—currently in power—and several policing associations. Preferring a US-style “war on drugs,” the federal government introduced the “Respect for Communities Act,” which would require supervised injection sites to consult with community, law enforcement, provincial, and municipal authorities before opening. Although the Supreme Court of Canada has ordered that Insite remain open, the legislation might prevent the establishment of similar sites.
The Centre does not support legalization of illicit drugs.
The Full Report, “Drug Situation in Vancouver,” was published online by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at http://uhri.cfenet.ubc.ca/images/Documents/dsiv2013.pdf.