Centre’s case for safer-injection facility draws international attention

published on April 28, 2004

(Vancouver) – The over-reliance on conventional drug-enforcement strategies and the limitations of existing public-health programs underscores the need to evaluate the potential benefits of North America’s first medically supervised safer-injection facility (SIF), says the cover story of a leading international medical journal.

The research paper, authored by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS along with leading international researchers, is the featured editorial of the May issue of The Lancet‘s Infectious Diseases publication.

Since the opening of Vancouver’s pilot SIF last September, there has been a substantial misunderstanding about the rationale for its evaluation as a public-health strategy, says Dr. Evan Wood, lead author. Some critics have suggested that SIFs may lead to increased HIV transmission among injection drug users (IDUs) and their migration to Vancouver, despite lack of evidence from previous experience to support these suggestions.

“Since previous studies have demonstrated that unchallenged misinformation can hinder the success of controversial public-health trials, we wish to explain the rationale behind the Canadian evaluation,” says Wood.

The four-and-a-half page paper provides a concise summary of previous Centre and international research outlining the limitations of current drug-control efforts and public-health policies to control the spread of infectious diseases and the incidence of overdose among IDUs. The paper also touches on research findings from over two dozen European cities with SIFs.

The Lancet cover story comes as Victoria mulls a SIF for the provincial capital’s downtown area. The City of Victoria is presenting a Harm Reduction Public Forum tonight at City Hall Chambers, 7-9:30 p.m.

The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is responsible for evaluating Vancouver’s pilot SIF. The Evaluation of Supervised Injecting Study (eSIS) will review the impact of the facility over a three-year period. The Centre study will evaluate changes in HIV risk behaviour, overdose rates, addiction treatment and public injecting.

The Lancet is further evidence all eyes of the international health community are on Vancouver,” says Dr. Julio Montaner, co-author and acting director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. “The Vancouver project may serve as a model for other North American cities.”

The England-based Lancet is considered one of the world’s leading medical journals.

Founded in 1992 by St. Paul’s Hospital and the provincial Ministry of Health, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is a key provincial resource seeking to improve the health of people with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. St. Paul’s Hospital is one of six health care facilities operated by Providence Health Care, Canada’s largest faith-based health care organization.