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News (Media Awareness Project) - CN BC: Health Officer Endorses Safe Drug Site For Victoria
Title:CN BC: Health Officer Endorses Safe Drug Site For Victoria
Published On:2004-03-27
Source:Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Fetched On:2008-08-23 06:24:39
HEALTH OFFICER ENDORSES SAFE DRUG SITE FOR VICTORIA

B.C.'s chief medical health doctor has weighed in on the debate about a
safe drug injection site for Victoria, saying that such a facility is
needed for the city.

"Speaking as a provincial health officer, I think it would be appropriate,"
Dr. Perry Kendall said Friday.

The use of illegal drugs administered by needles is an "acknowledged
problem" in Victoria, reflected by repeated overdoses and health issues
like HIV and hepatitis C, he said.

Diseases are spread through the sharing of needles and drug users are
shooting up openly in public areas, Kendall said.

The city's needle exchange centre has more than 2,000 clients, he noted.

Mayor Alan Lowe has mused out loud about making Victoria the second city in
North America with an officially supervised injection site, following
Vancouver's example.

"We've been hearing about people shooting up in the alleys, people shooting
up in people's front yards, around people's businesses and schools," Lowe
told a forum on illicit drug use last week.

"In order to deal with some of those problems we do need a safe injection
site."

Vancouver's site opened on a three-year trial basis last September in the
city's Downtown Eastside. Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen, who has been
travelling around the country to talk about the experience, told the forum
of the benefits of the site, used by 500 drug addicts daily.

The facility is part of a "four pillars" approach to dealing with drug
addicts -- prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement.

Kendall said early indications suggest the Vancouver experiment is a
success; it has resulted in less drug use in public areas and has support
from neighbours.

Any bid by Victoria for a similar site would require community support, he
said. It will also need to be approved by Health Canada for an exemption
under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Vancouver
obtained its exemption to conduct a "scientific research pilot project."

Funding would be an issue for any such facility in Victoria with the
Vancouver Island Health Authority one likely source of cash, in addition to
the provincial Health Ministry. Vancouver received a grant of $1.5 million
from Ottawa and $3.2 million from the province.

Earlier this month, the International Narcotics Control Board, an
independent United Nations organization, took a swipe at the Vancouver
operation. In a report, it criticized the injection site for allowing
people to "inject drugs acquired on the illicit market with impunity" and
suggested that Canada is violating international drug treaties it signed.

However, Kendall, who co-chaired a task force into the feasibility of such
facilities from 1999 to 2001, said it concluded that injection sites meet
the requirements of such treaties provided they are used for medical and
social service reasons.

Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell dismissed the UN group. He said it is mostly
funded by the U.S., which does not support any "harm reduction" drug
programs, preferring to fight a "war on drugs" through enforcement, a
policy that Canadian officials feel is not working.

Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Jeff Bray, who has said Victoria did not need a
safe injection site, said Friday he has changed his mind after last week's
forum.

Bray said he was surprised by how many people support such a site and now
thinks such a facility could be useful. But it may be that several
satellite injection sites are needed rather than a central facility that
could attract drug users from outside Victoria, he said.

Bray said he wants to see a "needs analysis" done to see what the harm
reduction requirements of the city are. Such a study would likely be
conducted by the Vancouver Island Health Authority but would have to be
supported by Victoria council.

Lowe has not yet indicated when the issue will be discussed by council.
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