By Alfa · Apr 25, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    Victoria is following in the footsteps of Vancouver by adopting a "harm
    reduction" approach to deal with the worrying number of illegal drug users
    on city streets.

    Council officially endorsed the approach Thursday as part of a "four
    pillars strategy" pioneered by the Lower Mainland city with such
    innovations as North America's first legally sanctioned safe drug injection
    site for addicts.

    "This reaffirms the direction that we're going," Mayor Alan Lowe said. It
    may well lead to Victoria establishing the second injection site on the
    continent, but this will not happen without extensive consultation with
    city residents, he said.

    "We realize the need to educate people and conduct a thorough consultation
    process so we're not pushing anything down the public's throat."

    Reducing the harm caused to people by drug abuse is the overarching goal of
    the plan, community development manager Wendy Zink told council. The other
    three pillars are prevention, treatment and enforcement.

    The approach has been incorporated into a "downtown health initiative"
    launched in January 2003 as a collaborative effort of the city, the
    Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Victoria police department.

    The initiative aims to tackle drug addiction and mental health problems
    that are hurting downtown revitalization. The program has led to such
    measures as stepped-up enforcement of drug dealing, the establishment in
    February of a sobering and assessment centre for alcoholics, the expansion
    of a youth detox centre and an increase in the number of outreach workers.

    Plans call for the establishment of a psychiatric emergency building
    downtown and an increase in affordable housing.

    A safe injection site is also on the agenda but it won't happen overnight,
    said Lowe, who spoke out in support of such a facility last month. The idea
    has been widely backed by other authorities, including B.C.'s chief medical
    health officer Perry Kendall and city Police Chief Paul Battershill.

    European cities have successfully used such facilities for years but the
    approach runs counter to the U.S. "war on drugs" that favours tough
    enforcement over harm reduction.

    Lowe said some people have told him the
    city shouldn't be "going down this
    route." But when they hear about the needles on the street and addicts
    shooting up in front of downtown businesses, they change their tune, he said.

    The city's needle exchange centre already has more than 2,000 clients. An
    injection site would not encourage people to use drugs but it would provide
    existing drug users with a safe place to shoot up, along with access to
    treatment and counselling, Lowe said.

    In addition to community consultation, the city will need the support of
    the federal and provincial governments in establishing such a facility.
    "We're hoping we can piggyback on Vancouver's research project and
    hopefully we can have a smoother ride (than that city)."

    Zink said it took 10 years of debate and discussion before Vancouver's
    injection site was approved last year, on a three-year-trial basis, by
    Health Canada.

    A forum scheduled for Wednesday, April 28, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at City Hall
    will examine Vancouver's experience. Officials from the injection site and
    members of the business community will take part in a panel discussion.

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