Supreme Court: Science backs safe injection; More sites planned

Published by Dan SW


In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously decided that Vancouver’s safe injection site reduces death, disease, and crime related to drug addiction, and will therefore remain open, in contravention of the criminal law.

Based on the ruling, and the success of the InSite facility, health care providers and policy makers in several other major Canadian cities and provinces are considering opening similar facilities in their areas of jurisdiction.

As a member of the straightedge community, where do you stand? Can we accept supervised drug use if there is overwhelming evidence that it reduces death, disease, and crime?

How would a similar facility affect crime and addiction in your city?

From the Globe and Mail:

The trial judge and appeal court had also ruled in favour of the injection site’s continuation as a place where addicts could get controlled access to drugs under medical supervision. It was a policy supported by medical associations, nurses, public health experts and those learned in the cruel maladies of addiction.

Technically, drug users are criminals. But the Liberal government had granted an exemption from the criminal law to allow the injection site to operate, the theory being that controlled use under supervision would lead to less crime because addicts wouldn’t be desperately seeking money to feed their addiction. And, of course, controlled access did less harm to the addicts than shooting up in back alleys with shared and dirty needles.

The exercise of ministerial discretion, the court said, must rest on “evidence” and the “principles of fundamental justice.” It added: “There is … nothing to be gained (and much to be risked) in sending the matter back to the Minister for reconsideration.” Concluded the court: “On the facts as found here, there can be only one response: to grant the exemption.”

Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail

From the Canadian Press

Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said Friday’s ruling opens the door for other cities across the country to operate facilities such as InSite, which records 800 visits a day by people injecting their own heroin and cocaine.

He said the unanimous, 9-0 court decision means the fight to save the lives of people caught in the clutches of addiction will go on now that Insite’s fate is no longer in limbo.

The continuing operation of Insite flies in the face of the government’s tough-on-crime approach.

“The preference of this government in dealing with drug crimes is obviously to prosecute those who sell drugs and create drug addiction in our population and in our youth, and when it comes to treating drug addiction to try to do so with programs of prevention and treatment,” [Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen] Harper said.

Dozens of studies in top medical journals have suggested InSite saves lives because addicts are given their own needles to inject drugs such as heroin and cocaine rather than sharing syringes that pass on HIV and hepatitis.

Dr. Thomas Kerr, director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at St. Paul’s Hospital, said one of the most compelling studies was published last year in the medical journal The Lancet and showed that overdoses declined sharply in the area around InSite.

“We demonstrated that there was a 35 per cent reduction from a two-year period before Insite opened to two years after,” he said outside InSite.

Kerr said there have been 1,500 overdoses at the safe-injection site, but nobody has died because a nurse supervises addicts as they inject their drugs.

Montreal, Edmonton and Victoria have expressed interest in facilities similar to InSite, which is North America’s only such clinic.

Natacha Boudreau, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s health ministry, said the government is analyzing the ruling before making a decision on a similar site, perhaps in Montreal.

Kerry Williamson, a spokesman for Alberta Health Services, said the government “will examine today’s ruling carefully and consider what impact it may have with respect to our harm reduction programs.”

Health-care leaders from Toronto, Halifax, Saskatoon and even the Ukraine and Poland have visited the Dr. Peter clinic to learn how they can set up similar facilities, [Maxine] Davis (executive director of the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation) said.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press