Friday, May 16, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Victoria?

Since I'm sure it's burning in your loins, I'll confirm the rumours: that was indeed me on the CBC ten days or so ago talking about the University of British Columbia (UBC)'s letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper encouraging him consider scientific research on Insite, North America's only supervised injection site (based in Vancouver), rather than taking a moralistic, law-and-order stance on drug use in Canada. Okay, that wasn't exactly their recommendation, but that was essentially the stance I took (conjecture perhaps, but I think it's really just semantics).

In June 2003, Health Canada granted the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCHA) an exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to establish Insite under an umbrella of a scientific research pilot project in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (for a list of FAQs on Insite, go here).

Twenty-two peer-reviewed studies have been published by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (in conjunction with UBC researchers), in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and even The Lancet. A snapshot of the results indicate that Insite has led to an increase in intake into detoxification and treatment; a 70% decrease in needle-sharing (which has been a leading cause in epidemic rates of HIV and Hepatitis C infection in the Downtown Eastside -- as high as 85% for Hep C and 40% for HIV); and most significantly, ZERO deaths due to overdose (a more extensive summary of research results can be viewed here). Despite the overwhelming evidence that Insite has been successful, consistent with the use of supervised injection sites across Europe, the Harper government continues to rely on fear-mongering and reductionist tactics, using sensationalistic portrayals of drug addicts as violent, sporadic, and criminally-inclined. Consequently, the Section 56 exemption is set to run out on June 30.

On Wednesday, May 21, a bus-load of drug users and community supporters (of which I am one) will be going to Victoria to sit in on the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, where Vancouver-Mount Pleasant New Democratic MLA Jenny Kwan will be making a motion to keep Insite open as a medical health facility in the Provincial jurisdiction, thus taking it out of the hands of the Harper government and its inadequacies. This is a noble effort on part of the provincial government, and something the local community is excited to throw their support behind.

Vancouverites can hop on at 380 E. Hastings at 8 a.m. on the 21st, Victorians, see you there at 11!