Harm reduction continues to save lives

September 30th 2012 marks the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision stating that InSite, Vancouver’s supervised consumption site, could not be closed by the federal government. In their 2011 ruling, the Supreme Court noted "the experiment has proven successful. InSite has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area." A year later Ottawa community members are still calling for the city to implement supervised consumption sites as part of an effective strategy to address substance use issues facing the community.

InSite is North America’s first legal supervised injection site which provides primary care, counseling, treatment, access to harm reduction drug use supplies, as well as a safer environment to use for people who inject drugs. InSite’s staff team is comprised of nurses, counselors, mental health workers, and peer support workers who work from a harm reduction model. This approach aims to reduce the social, economic, and health risks/harm associated with injection drug use on the individual and community.

September 30th is truly a day to celebrate and reflect on the positive impact InSite has had on the Vancouver community. Some of the results since InSite’s opening in 2003:

  • Fatal overdoses within 500 metres of InSite decreased by 35% after the facility opened compared to a decrease of 9% in the rest of Vancouver (Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America’s first medically supervised safer injecting facility. Lancet: April 18, 2011.)
  • Since 2007, new HIV infections among Vancouver injection drug users have fallen 50% per year, in part due to the harm reduction services provided at InSite (BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS)
  • Use of detox programs increased by more than 30% among InSite users (BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS)
  • InSite has decreased open drug use in the Downtown Eastside and improved public order with no measurable increase in levels of drug-related crime (BC Centre for Excellence In HIV/AIDS)
  • Public order in the area around the facility improved. There were significant decreases in numbers of publicly discarded syringes, injection-related litter such as syringe wrappers, and people injecting in the area around InSite (Changes in public order after the opening of a medically supervised safer injecting facility for illicit injection drug users. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2004)

Due to the success of InSite and other similar facilities around the world, it has been recommended that safe injection facilities be considered in other cities where injection drug use and overdose deaths are common. A report published in the spring recommended that Ottawa implement supervised injection services to avert new HIV infections, to save money across the health-care system, to improve the lives of people who use drugs in our city, and to reduce public drug use and disorder.

The Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa is marking this occasion by continuing to take our message to the streets and engage community members about the need for safer consumption facilities here in Ottawa. From Friday, September 28th through Sunday September 30th, CSCS members will be in the ByWard Market to gather signatures on our petition that is calling on the provincial government to support supervised drug consumption sites.

If Ottawa is serious about wanting to improve the lives of people struggling with substance use issues, then the city must add supervised consumption services to the already existing programs and services in the city. Further delay is playing with people’s lives.

For more information and research related to InSite, read the InSite findings report.