Q and A: Dr. Thomas Kerr on the challenges for Vancouver’s supervised injection site in its early days

published on April 13, 2017 by Yolande Cole in Calgary Herald

Calgary’s police chief is backing calls for a local site where drug users could consume substances under medical supervision. Roger Chaffin said preliminary discussions are underway about what a supervised consumption site in the city will look like. He added that police will work to ensure that community members feel safe.

Dr. Thomas Kerr is the co-director of the Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the principal investigator of several large cohort studies involving people who inject drugs and people living with HIV/AIDS. He spoke to Postmedia about community concerns when supervised injection facility Insite was established in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2003.

What were the community fears when Insite was initially proposed?

I think there were people who had a number of fears that this would make public order worse by either attracting drug users to the area or creating a bit of a honeypot effect where everybody kind of gathers in one area. There were some people who felt that it would undermine efforts to get people into abstinence-based treatment and some, although not many, who also were concerned that it would send the wrong message to youth and it might make injection drug use fashionable.

How were those fears addressed?

I think a lot of the fears simply went away once the site opened and people saw that it didn’t actually create this chaos, that there wasn’t this escalation in crime or people congregating in the Downtown Eastside. In fact, the Chinese merchants association, which initially opposed the supervised injecting site but did agree to the three-year evaluation experiment, actually wrote a letter at the end of three years in support of the site, saying that they’d noticed improvements in public order.

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