Vancouver's East Side Lobbies to Keep Safe-Injection Site Open

  1. Powder_Reality
    East-Siders Lobby To Keep Injection Site
    by John Bermingham, (05 Jul 2006) Province British Columbia
    Health Authority, Community Ask For Extension

    A last-minute push is on to keep the safe-injection site open.

    Two months before the Downtown Eastside facility is slated to close, the lobbying effort has heated up to get a federal government extension.

    The Insite program is due to wind up its three-year run on Sept. 12, and needs a special Health Canada exemption to continue.

    The pilot study was the first in North America to allow drug-users to inject drugs with the blessing of government.

    The operator, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, has asked for a 3 1/2-year extension.

    The Portland Hotel Society, which operates non-medical services at the facility, has launched a letter campaign aimed at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Health Minister Tony Clement.

    PHS collected letters yesterday from Downtown Eastside residents at Main and Hastings asking Ottawa to keep the facility open.

    It's also forwarding all the scientific research on the site to the decision-makers' desks.

    "My view is that they would be insane not to make it go ahead, and that they will let it go ahead," said PHS head Mark Townsend.

    "We don't want to be in a position where we didn't do anything and it didn't go ahead because people didn't get the information they need to do the right thing."

    Mayor Sam Sullivan said he's been lobbying Tory ministers to keep the site open, and wants to expand the program.

    "They shouldn't assume there's widespread desire to shut down the safe-injection site," said Sullivan.

    "In fact, the support for the safe-injection site comes from surprising quarters."

    Support is strong from the Chinatown business community, he said, who've seen a decline in street disorder.

    Sullivan also recently met with Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe, who wants a safe-injection site there.

    Ann Livingstone of drug-user group VANDU said she's optimistic the facility will stay open.

    "If you're mean to drug users in this neighbourhood, you'll really look stupid," she said. "We know it's working."

    Livingstone figures there's a need for three sites around the Downtown Eastside, where drug users inject themselves for a total of 15,000 times a day.

    "It's really hard to lobby when they say yes," she added. "If they want to have an all-out war on harm reduction, I think in the end, we'll end up with more than we've got now."

    During an election stop in Vancouver last December, Stephen Harper said there would be no more tax dollars "to fund drug use" and, in May, said he's not committed to it until it's evaluated.

    At the end of March, 7,278 people were registered at Insite, injecting heroin and cocaine at the rate of 600 visits per day.

    There were 450 overdoses, but no deaths. About 1,600 people were referred to addiction counselling.

    *SWIM doesn't understand why Stephen Harper thinks it's better for Vancouver to have addicts shooting up with dirty needles and overdosing on the streets instead of helping them. To say that Canada is spending tax dollars to fund drug use is ridiculous. It's not supporting drug use; it's helping addicts get into counselling, preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and keeping injection drug use off the streets of Vancouver. All the money that Harper saves by closing down Insite will go directly into enforcing drug use, which is just going to make things a lot worse. He wants to talk about wasting tax money? Just look at how much money the U.S. government wastes on drug enforcement every year.

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