As Seattle eyes supervised drug-injection sites, is Vancouver a good model?

published on November 30, 2016 by JoNel Aleccia in The Seattle Times

King County may become home to the first publicly supervised site in the U.S. where addicts could use illegal drugs such as heroin. The proposal is modeled on Insite, a center in Vancouver, B.C., that says it’s prevented nearly 5,000 overdoses in 13 years.

VANCOUVER, B.C. “” It’s still quiet and calm here at Insite, North America’s first supervised drug-injection center, but that’s just because it’s 7:45 a.m. on a Thursday and the doors haven’t opened yet.

In less than an hour, the first of the day’s 376 clients will be lined up, clutching hidden stashes of heroin and other drugs, anxiousto slide into one of more than a dozen mirrored, lighted booths and shoot up. Some come by more than once. Visits for the day will total 610. Three addicts will overdose “” and be revived.

But that’s the point of the 13-year-old center that offers sterile supplies and a watchful eye: Reduce the risks for addicts, and worry less “” or, at least, later “” about helping them get clean.

“This is not rocket science,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-director of the Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, who has extensively studied Insite.

“We’re asking people to do something they do every day, but to do it in a health-care facility where we can minimize the harms.”

Critics, however “” including supporters of the Conservative Canadian government leadership who battled for years to shut down the center “” contend the effort doesn’t address underlying problems and simply enables addicts to continue to use.

“The problem is that it’s based on an ideological assumption that addicts can never get better,” said David Berner, executive director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, which promotes abstinence-based drug treatment. “Would you knowingly cross the street to give a drunk a clean shot glass?”

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