Vancouver’s supervised injection site, the first in North America, opened 13 years ago. What’s changed?

published on March 20, 2016 by Douglas Quan in The National Post

VANCOUVER – On a recent afternoon, a woman sat on the sidewalk, steps from this city’s supervised drug-injection facility, Insite, pant leg rolled up, needle in hand. A young man walked by and casually offered a reporter a ball of speed. A short time later, three police cars swooped in to arrest a hoodied man for allegedly wielding a hammer in a nearby alley during a suspected drug-induced frenzy.

Thirteen years after this facility, North America’s first, opened in the Downtown Eastside with an emphasis on harm reduction over treatment – a model now being contemplated in several Canadian cities – one might be tempted to wonder: what’s changed?

A lot, insist Insite staff, academics, and area residents, who point to a reduction in overdose deaths and the spread of disease in the neighbourhood.

The work of Insite staff has, without question, paid off, said Thomas Kerr, director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

“The evidence is pretty clear. There’s no real serious academic debate.”

Kerr co-authored a 2011 study that showed overdose deaths in the immediate area fell 35 per cent during the first two years of operation.

In a 2007 study, Kerr and his colleagues surveyed more than 1,000 Insite clients. A majority reported being less rushed when injecting, were injecting less frequently outdoors, and were more careful about syringe disposal.

View the full article