Expert: Safe injection site improves 'public order'
Published Monday, May 5, 2008 10:48PM EDT
Vancouver's safe-injection site has not lowered or increased crime in the area, but has slightly reduced public drug use and saved taxpayers' money in health costs, according to a new report.
Professor Neil Boyd, a criminologist at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, said on Monday that Insite, the five-year-old safe-injection site, has not had a negative impact on its community.
"We looked at crime rates in the area surrounding Insite, and we talked to business operators, we talked to service providers, to police, to residents in the surrounding vicinity. We found, overwhelmingly, people had very positive sentiments," he told CTV News.
"Not only that, crime rates were quite unaffected by the implementation of Insite...In fact, we found some improvements in public order with respect to decreased injection debris, decreased injections around the site and those findings simply corroborated other research that had been carried out prior to our study."
Boyd was commissioned last year by the federal government to study Insite's impact on crime rates in Vancouver's downtown east side.
His research also showed:
- For every $1 spent on Insite, up to $4 of taxpayers' money is saved;
- The risk of contracting hepatitis C or HIV decreases as needle sharing is curbed;
- The use of detoxification services increases as Insite users are encouraged to seek treatment and counselling; and,
- Lives have been saved as Insite staff have been able to intervene during overdose events.
Insite, believed to be North America's only supervised injection site, opened in 2003. It allows people to inject illegal drugs, including heroin and cocaine, under a nurse's supervision.
It was able to open after it was granted a federal exemption from Canada's drug laws, which runs out at the end of June.
More than 25 studies, published in some of the leading medical journals, have shown that it keeps health-care and law-enforcement budgets down while minimizing harm to addicts.
"I don't think there's much doubt anymore," Boyd said.
"We have to move to close this chapter and give Insite a long-standing exemption."
Health Minister Tony Clement is expected to decide whether or not to extend Insite's exemption near the June 30 deadline.
"I would urge Tony Clement to look carefully at the evidence, and I think if he does, he'll come to the conclusion that this isn't about enabling drug users. This is about helping a disadvantaged, very compromised population," Boyd said.
Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said the government should not base its decision on ideological grounds, but on science and expert opinion.
"The government should stop thinking and acting politically, and start acting responsibly for health reasons," he told CTV's Mike Duffy Live. "Insite has been studied to death -- literally. They should move on."
Clement has said he wants more information about Insite before deciding whether to grant the program more government funding.
"We're the government that actually wants more research ... because we want to make sure that this decision is the right decision for Canada, the right decision for addicts, the right decision for the community in Vancouver,'' he told the House of Commons Monday.
Winnipeg MP Steven Fletcher, secretary to the health minister, has said the government will not base its decision purely on science, because the science is conflicting.
He said Clement will have to consider the "realities of the situation."