Vancouver clean needle program: Another plus for harm reduction

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In February, ACSH commended the efforts of North America’s only “safe injection site” — Insite — for successfully reducing the number of new HIV infections in Vancouver, B.C. by 52 percent since 1996. Now a new study published in The Lancet shows that Insite is also contributing another form of harm reduction: decreasing the number of deaths from drug overdoses. The study results indicate that Vancouver’s Eastside neighborhood, a hot-spot for drug addiction, has seen a 35 percent reduction in drug overdose deaths. According to researchers from the B.C. Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the harm reduction benefits have also spread to other parts of the city.

Insite was initially permitted to operate as part of a medical trial while researchers tested the efficacy of a clean needle exchange program. Currently, the Canadian Supreme Court is scheduled to adjudicate a lawsuit over the Canadian federal government’s push to close down the clinic now that its trial period has ended.

“ACSH is a big proponent of harm reduction in a variety of public health issues, the most important being tobacco use — meaning, getting addicted smokers away from deadly cigarettes onto less toxic nicotine sources such as snus or smokeless tobacco. The Vancouver program is another example of harm reduction — reducing the health consequences of a behavior without demanding complete abstinence,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “My question: Why would the Canadian federal authorities try to close down this remarkable and unique program? Fundamentalism against any drug use? I somehow thought our Northern neighbors did not share that odious philosophy with us.”