Vancouver Safe-Injection Site Gets a Thumbs Up From BC Supreme Court

This morning Tom twittered about a recent decision by the BC Supreme Court on Insite, Vancouver’s controversial safe-injection site:

Supporters are pleased about a B.C. Supreme Court decision regarding Insite, a supervised safe-injection facility in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, while critics are disappointed the bigger issues remain unresolved.

In a 60-page ruling Tuesday, Justice Ian Pitfield gave Insite an exemption from Canada’s drug laws until the end of June 2009.

‘Critics’ is a bit generous, as the article only cites Vancouver police union president Tom Stamatakis. Apparently the Vancouver police department supports the project, but the union doesn’t.

Regardless of what you think about heroin addicts or the ‘war on drugs’, Insite makes so much sense. Let’s get callous for a second, and consider the savings in healthcare costs alone. There have been over 500 overdoses (PDF) over a two-year period at Insite (with zero fatalities). On sight site medical staff dealt with six in ten of those, and only one in ten required hospitalization. The cost of the facility over that period was $1 million. How many of those 450 overdose cases would otherwise have ended up in a costly hospital visit? And how much does each prevented fatality save the government?

Insite’s website cites (argh!) a whole suite of benefits (with references) to addicts, the community and the bottom line.

I looked, and couldn’t find any evidence-based criticisms of the facility. Instead, there’s just silly rhetoric from the moral high ground. When Insite opened, an official in the Bush administration called it ‘state-sponsored suicide’. Insite just works. It’s a cost-effective, harm-reductive health facility. I’m glad that our provincial Supreme Court found in favour in project–I trust our federal government will see things the same way.


  1. I absolutely think providing safe injection sites such as these are a critical, positive step. Good for Vancouver!

    I must point out, though, that the *really* callous calculation would need to include how much money the government might save for each overdose that died, since there would be no more criminal costs, health care, etc.

  2. Oops … “on sight medical staff” probably should be “on site medical staff”.

    I disagree with your cost-based approach for justifying the clinic. The older I get, the more I understand that every life is precious. On that basis alone, Insite is a valuable resource. I just wish we had one here in Toronto and the older I get (I may have mentioned that) the more I think that the reason the police departments don’t want them is because a druggie arrest is an easy way to make quota and top up the crime stats for a city.

  3. Chris: True, though I think it costs a boatload of money to, uh, process an untimely death.

    JohnB: I fixed that. I’m not necessarily advocating this approach (that’s why I called it callous), just making the case to those who would reduce human lives to dollars and cents.

  4. “I looked, and couldn’t find any evidence-based criticisms of the facility. Instead, there’s just silly rhetoric from the moral high ground.”

    Yup, that pretty much sums it up. It bothers me that the federal government keeps saying “we need more evidence on Insite,” as if they are really interested in the evidence-base. There is plenty of evidence and all of it shows reduced harms and even reduced costs (for, as you point out, the callous people who don’t care about reducing harms). Their opposition to Insite is ideological, not scientific – and it bothers me that they try to claim it has anything to do with science.

    Also, I’ve been told by people who work there that the correct term is “supervised injection site,” not “safe injection site” (although the vast majority of media and the public use the latter).

  5. Beth: Interesting about the name. I’ve got a whole riff about how we so often name things incorrectly (and I think that it’s often because the engineers and scientists get to name stuff). It’s coming in a future blog post.

  6. From what I heard from the federal health minister in Question Period today, it doesn’t sound like the government is simply going to accept the court ruling. They may even appeal it, which would be dumb — especially since the provincial and city governments support it, as does the health-outcomes evidence.

    I do think that, as with so many other controversial topics (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.), the reluctant government is going to be swept along with the tide of public and court opinion on this one. While this court decision (giving the federal government a year to revise the law that would otherwise ban the project) is specific to Insite, it will provide a precedent for other cities to try similar facilities, even if the feds don’t grant them exemptions like the one Insite has.

    And about damn time. Now to boost funding for timely and effective addiction treatment and rehab…

  7. The more I read about this, the more I think about that old saw “common sense is an oxymoron”.

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