In the face of mounting public support for supervised injection sites, Health Canada yesterday granted Vancouver’s Insite safe injection facility another four years to operate in the area. This is the first time the safe injection site has received an exemption that is longer than a year.
Insite previously received a special exemption to operate for five years from the Liberal government between 2003 and 2008. However, the Conservative government which took over refused to renew the exemption past July 2008. This ruling was met with a constitutional challenge by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2011, the SC ruled against Conservative government’s withdrawal of the exemption.
In June last year, the Conservative government’s Respect for the Communities Act came into law. The act requires safe injection sites to meet requirements including consultation with community members, public health officials, local police, as well as provincial and territorial health ministers. It also required applicants to provide information on local crime rates and public nuisances.
“We are encouraged by Health Canada’s willingness to voluntarily move to a multi-year exemption for Insite,” B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said in a statement. “It reflects an understanding of the tremendous value the facility has, and signals that Insite is an important part of health services within the Vancouver community in the eyes of the federal government.”
Meanwhile, in Toronto, more than 50 community leaders, together with five mayors and the former commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that they had signed a statement supporting safe injection site for the city.
Supervised injection sites have the potential to “save lives and improve public safety,” according to a statement they released Thursday in their call for the city council to back their proposal.
“If a member of my family was using injection-based drugs I would want them to stop but I would also want to make sure that they are kept alive long enough to have a chance to break that addiction. We know these services work, we know they save lives and we know they make our communities safer,” city councillor and chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy Joe Cressy said.
Earlier this week, Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health released a report in which he identified three existing facilities where the city could open supervised injection sites. He believes such sites could help cut down deaths due to drug overdose
Latest available statistics indicate that 206 people died from drug overdoses in 2013, which represents a 41 per cent jump from 2006.
“I regularly see the damage inflicted by injection drug use but is often not a direct result from the drugs themselves but infections that are caused by using the needles,” the Chief of Emergency Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital Dr. Howard Ovens said in a press conference yesterday at the Toronto City Hall. “These infections are chronic and complex to manage not to mention contagious and they lead to additional burdens on already crowded hospitals. There is a proven method of reducing all these problems and it is supervised injection services.”
As it stands, the only two supervised injection sites in the country are located in Vancouver. Montreal Mayor Denise Coderre previously said he hopes to open four safe injection sites in his city.