Study praises injection site
Researchers note decline in overdoses
John Graham is feeling optimistic about digging himself out of the depths of drug addiction.
The 45-year-old said Monday he's been clean and sober for two months and will soon be staying at a treatment centre in Maple Ridge. "I think I am evolving to be the person I was meant to be," he told the Courier after a press conference Monday at the Insite drug injection site on East Hastings.
Graham, who is now a client of Insite's detox program, was at the facility to hear the news he already knew - that Insite, the only legal injection site in North America, saves people like him from dying of drug overdoses. Researchers from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS published a study in The Lancet medical journal Monday that showed a 35 per cent decline in the number of overdose deaths since Insite opened in 2003.
The study examined overdose deaths two years before the site opened and two years after. The 35 per cent drop occurred within 500 metres of Insite. By contrast, overdose deaths in the rest of the city decreased by less than 10 per cent.
"We knew previously that Insite was reducing public disorder, it was preventing HIV infections, it was also dramatically increasing the number of people who were entering into addiction treatment," said Thomas Kerr, a co-author of the study, who attended Monday's press conference. "But today, what we've found in this study is that Insite is literally the difference between life and death for many people who come here."
The findings come less than a month before the Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule on two lower court rulings in B.C. that have allowed Insite to remain open. The federal government initiated the court fight after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield granted staff and users a constitutional exemption from the country's drug laws. The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld Pitfield's decision.
Graham said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's drive to close Insite is based on politics and not scientific studies which have repeatedly shown Insite is helping addicts. "Bureaucrats talking about saving money, [Insite] saves money," he said. "They use the word 'addict.' How about human being? How about helping these people stay alive until they can get the medical attention they need--and come clean."
Mark Townsend of the PHS Community Service Society, which operates Insite in conjunction with Vancouver Coastal Health, pointed out the federal government has previously commissioned studies on the facility "which basically came up with the same conclusions."
"In fact some of the authors of those reports did a press conference in Ottawa to say, 'Hey, enough is enough, this is turning in to a bit of a joke,'" Townsend said. "You really just have one individual [Harper] who is not listening to anyone--not listening to doctors, not listening to nurses, not listening to their own reports."
Insite records an average of 600 injections per day and is staffed by nurses. Though people have overdosed in the facility, the operators say no one has died there.
The Supreme Court of Canada's ruling is expected May 12.