Insight on Vancouver’s Insite facility and the future of safe-injection sites in Quebec

Since opening in 2003, Canada’s first safe-injection site has been at the heart of controversy. Vancouver’s Downtown-Eastside facility Insite has been the subject of media and medical praise, and Montreal’s very own Cactus-Montreal can’t wait to open its own safe-injection site facilities.

Simply put, a safe injection site is a supervised clinic-like environment that provides intravenous-drug users a safe place to go and sterilized tools for their addiction. Using Insite as an example, the facilities have adjoining rehabilitation programs to help people quit their addictions. Plans to open safe-injection sites in Montreal and Quebec city are already in the works courtesy of Cactus-Montreal.

On the national front, the subject of Vancouver’s safe-injection site has reached heated proportions. Provincial governmental supporters of Insite claim the facility falls under provincial health jurisdiction and greatly benefits the community while the federal government ultimately believes the facility is a federal matter and wants it shut down to ensure that others aren’t opened anywhere else in Canada. These differences are the subject of a supreme court case initiated by the Federal government that will reach a verdict in May 2011.

Despite praise from the national medical and social working communities and facts yielded by multiple recent studies in terms of individual benefits (reduced risk of overdose and spread of blood-transmitted infections) and community benefits (increased community safety, easy access to drug rehabilitation programs for addicts), establishing a place like Insite anywhere else in Canada has been met with resistance. The Government claims that not enough evidence is available to prove that Insite or safe injection sites in general are truly helping communities. At this point, Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc is waiting for the supreme court ruling about Insite to be announced later this spring before he yay-or-nays Cactus-Montreal’s plan to open safe-injection sites in the province.

It baffles me that the debate about the effectiveness of safe-injection sites continues as if there wasn’t enough proof that they are advantageous to everyone. Vancouver’s headlines on this topic say a lot: “Safe-injection site slashes fatal overdoses” and “BC safe injection site saves lives.”

Not only that, but Insite keeps the downtown community safer. The Insite website states that 73% of their clients have injected in public before having access to the facility. This fact strikes home for me considering the number of times I’ve walked past used syringes in parks and on the street in Montreal. Just two days ago, I saw a used syringe in front of me on the metro tracks. Having a safe-injection site in Montreal could help centralize used-needle disposal and reduce the stray-needle problem in public areas, among many other individual and community benefits.

Obviously, I’m looking forward to what Bolduc will have to say in May. More to come on this in the near future! In the meantime, take a look inside Vancouver’s Insiteand tell me what you think about having something like this in Montreal!

Images: The Somerville News Blog and The National Post

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