Friday, September 24, 2004

600 a Day Using 'Safe Injection' Site

Safe injection site visited by 600 users daily "exceeding expectations:" report
Jeremy Hainsworth
Canadian Press
Friday, September 24, 2004

VANCOUVER (CP) - Operators of North America's first safe injection site for intravenous drug users are claiming success, saying the site has "saved lives and improved lives."
Insite now averages nearly 600 injections a day and saw 3,000 users over the past year, says a report prepared by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and Providence Health Care. "Insite is exceeding expectations in terms of client volume and satisfaction," said Vancouver Coastal Health CEO Ida Goudreau in a news release.
The three-year-long, federally-approved project began a year ago Thursday.
The opening of the site was part of the so-called four pillars approach touted by now-Mayor Larry Campbell in his 2002 run for office.
The pillars are enforcement, treatment, harm reduction and prevention.
The report's statistics, however, show a predominance of drug use at the safe injection site over treatment.
The report found 83.1 per cent of visitors attended in August to use the injection room. The next reason for attending was the 8.2 per cent who went to collect injecting equipment. Only 2.3 per cent went to the site to see a nurse or counsellor.
"Visits to Insite for nursing care or counselling have been uncommon to date," the report says.
That doesn't concern Jim Green, a Vancouver city councillor and longtime activist in the Downtown Eastside area where the site is located.
He said the first purpose of the site was to get users injecting safely. Counselling and getting people off drugs is secondary to that.
"We'd like to have 100 per cent of people going to see a nurse or a counsellor but that's not going to happen with this population," Green said.
"In a group of IV users, these are the people who are in greatest risk. They're not people who you expect who are going to come in and say "Oh gee, I think I'll kick today.'
"It's just not going to happen. We're just mainly trying to keep people alive. Any other benefit that comes from that is gravy."
Green said the city now needs more detox and treatment centres.
Until then, he said, Vancouver "is just treading water."
The report found in the past six months, 262 referrals have been made for addictions counselling with 78 referrals made to withdrawal programs such as detox centres.
No deaths have occurred at the site although between March 10 and Aug. 20, there were 107 overdoses among 72 clients.
The report noted most of those visiting the site have low levels of education. Many visitors are aboriginal.
The busiest days for the site are those just before and after so-called Welfare Wednesday. The busiest such day was July 28 which saw 845 injections in an 18-hour period.
"There is a noticeable increase in visits around the distribution of welfare cheques during the last week of each month," the report says.
The opening of the safe injection site drew the ire of U.S. drug czar John Walters.
Calling the project "state-sponsored suicide," Walters called the site a waste of resources that should go to treatment and said any policy making life easier for drug users will only attract more addicts.
The most commonly-injected substances at the site are heroin, morphine, hydromorphone and cocaine. Seventy per cent of users are male and most live in the Downtown Eastside.
The average number of visits per person is 11.
Similar sites exist in Europe and Australia.