Injection sites by Jan. 1: Campbell

'I am not going to hesitate while people are dying,' candidate vows

Frances Bula
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Larry Campbell wants a safe-injection site for drug addicts in place by Jan. 1 if he is elected mayor Nov. 16.

Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun
Lisa Redekop and Fiona Gold are among those fighting for safe injection sites in the downtown core.

Realistically, there are zoning issues, staffing issues, a police plan and negotiations with other agencies, but he will not wait around for the perfect system while people die.

"Another two people died on Friday night because we don't have a safe-injection site," said Campbell. "I am not going to hesitate while people are dying. It's not going to be a year or two down the road."

The new mayor will take office Dec. 2 and if it's him, Campbell wants to open the first safe injection site within 30 days.

Campbell outlined his plan for safe injection sites the day after announcing that he would, if elected mayor, immediately implement a harm-reduction drug strategy to deal with the city's hard drug problem.

"Here's my plan," Campbell said Monday."

"I'll meet with the (police) chief [Jamie Graham] and say I want a police plan. I want you to get together with the health board and figure out how to have a safe-injection site and still have law enforcement."

Campbell said that German safe-injection sites impose a bubble zone around their safe-injection sites where all dealing is absolutely prohibited, and that's something local police might want to look at.

Second, he said, "I want to sit down with the people on the prevention end. We should have a concerted plan to get into the schools with medical-health people giving information."

He said he's not so concerned about meeting with people on the treatment "pillar" of the plan, since he knows that the health authority is already working on a comprehensive plan.

Campbell did not seem to be aware that police are also working on their own strategy for policing that will mesh with the health authority.

Vancouver Police Inspector Bob Rich, who is in charge of the district that covers Vancouver's northeast sector, said last week he is developing the police plan for the strategy.

Campbell, told about that, said that he expected that would speed up the process.

"Bob Rich is a good cop, working hard on the Downtown Eastside, so I don't think it would take that long."

Campbell said he's not concerned about the resources. He says he expects $20 million from the province and federal government, since that is what was discussed in early talks about the Vancouver Agreement, a deal that was announced in 2000 between the federal, provincial and city governments to tackle the economic, social, and health and addiction problems of the Downtown Eastside.

Original estimates for the cost of the city's four-pillar drug strategy, which includes a vast array of new or improved treatment, prevention, harm-reduction and enforcement services, were $20 to $30 million a year for the first few years.

Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Jennifer Clarke also has said she will work with all agencies involved to establish the four-pillars plan in a coherent and effective way.

Vancouver Civic Action TEAM mayoral candidate Valerie MacLean says if she is elected she will sit down with the city manager the first day to begin a public consultation process on where safe-injection sites and treatment facilities should be located.

MacLean also said she would meet all community groups in the Downtown Eastside, contact the federal health minister to get details about funding for sites and request a meeting with the police board and chief to discuss enforcement.

Campbell admitted he has no real sense from the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority -- the agency that would have to operate or oversee a site -- how quickly it could move to establish one.

And Heather Hay, the authority's director of health operations for the Downtown Eastside, also said she could not give any definitive deadline for opening a site, because it would depend on whether it went into a building that was already zoned for health facilities, what kind of staffing was required, who would actually run it (the health authority or a non-profit organization contracted by the authority), how many other health services would be clustered around it, and other variables, including what the federal government's guidelines will be for safe-injection sites. Those guidelines are to be announced by the end of the month.

Hay and others did say that the political decision to have something in place soon would make a difference to the timeline and to the way the whole plan is implemented.

Experts and others in the field weigh in on the proposed safe injection site.


Executive director, Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation

"I believe that the delivery of health care should be evidence-based and the research in Europe and Australia shows that [safe-injection sites] are effective.

"They decrease the number of overdose deaths. They increase the number of people who access treatment and they're associated with reducing crime and theft.

"There's been no reported deaths at any supervised injection site in the world.

"I think [the need for safe-injection sites] is very pressing. I think it's unethical to know that we can prevent people from dying and not do it."


Recovering heroin and cocaine addict, now executive-director of the Inner Visions Recovery Society.

"Safe-injection sites are not the answer. All they do is promote the disease. As long as you feed the disease, people are going to be hostages to it.

"There are some little things that could be done. I would set up a kiosk down there with the phone numbers of treatment centres and bus tickets out -- to Kamloops, Osoyoos or wherever.

"You open safe-injection sites and every drug addict in the U.S. will come up here. There is no way on God's green Earth they are going to work. In the over-all scheme, what a terrible message to give our children.

"Loving someone isn't always giving them what they want. It's pretty clear to me that dreams can come true. With safe-injection sites, I would be dead right now."


Chief medical officer for British Columbia

"We've got evidence from 27 cities in Europe and one in Australia that shows [supervised injection sites] can assist in reducing overdose deaths, can bring the user into contact with health-care professionals, can reduce HIV and hepatitis C and reduces public drug use, resulting in more orderly streets.

"That evidence is pretty robust and consistent. There is no evidence that it encourages drug use."


Street nurse

"We need an over-all city plan where supervised injection sites are to be located. We need to do this strategically to deal with the large volume of users across Vancouver.

"We also have to remember that health care is personal -- we don't want to set up injecting warehouses. We want to be effective in reducing the open drug scene in a sane and caring way for everyone, be they a drug user or a business owner."


Street nurse

"Supervised injection facilities are an immediate harm-reduction measure. They prevent HIV and hepatitis C transmission and overdose deaths. They need to be integrated into a system of care, and by that I mean detox and drug treatment programs. We should put all of our efforts into advocating for these services.

"Let's open them as soon as possible. They are the beginning of a system of care."


Health researcher with B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

"I think [safe-injection sites] are desperately needed. They're just one part of a comprehensive strategy that will work best when complemented with treatment.

"They help keep people alive. Dead junkies don't detox. You need to keep people alive long enough to get them into treatment.

"Some of the people who are making statements haven't really looked at the evidence or the data. These facilities are not new things. They've been around since the '80s."


New Westminster physician specializing in addiction problems

"What we would be doing with a government-funded and approved facility for addicted people is approving of their injection of toxic chemicals. We would be legitimizing intravenous drug use. I wonder if people are naive enough to believe that people won't overdose.

"When you give addicts unlimited access to narcotics, they become non-functioning in terms of employment. They don't want to eat. They become physically ill. The social and economic costs are enormous. This can't be the solution to it. Yet the election campaign seems to have come down to which candidate can proclaim the loudest that it is.

"The way to go is toward abstinence-based recovery. Part of recovery is having to face negative consequences."


Physician with a full-time addiction medical practice

"Give consideration to Switzerland which is about the same size as Vancouver Island and has about the same number of people as British Columbia. There are 26 cantons and about 5,000 detox beds, compared to 99 in B.C. There are 3,500 treatment beds in Switzerland, maybe about 400 or 500 in B.C.

"[Referring to the four-pillar approach to drug treatment in Vancouver] one of the pillars is safe-injection sites. That pillar is dependent on the other three pillars. But how can you have all the pillars in place when there are only 99 detox beds?

"In a perfect world, I would provide funding for detox beds. What's the point of giving people the poison? It's killing them. We are providing tacit approval of behaviour we would rather not see accepted. We need to provide treatment. We need to make abstinence something other than a dirty word."


Former heroin addict

"If an addict is shooting up in a safe-injection site, he is still a slave to the drug that is killing him. He doesn't improve his quality of life. His kids are still wondering where he is.

"I would have sooner been dead than have someone prolonging my life like that. Safe-injection sites are enabling and caretaking. Without hitting bottom, the addict can't come up.

"I'd make more money available for treatment. It takes at least two weeks for an addict to get into a detox centre. When an addict has that moment of clarity, there is a very tiny window of opportunity."

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

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