The Supervised Injection Site in Canada's Vancouver, the first such site in North America, has been a great success and is slowing down the spread of HIV and helping drug users quit their habits, a new study concluded.
The controversial injection site, which drew about 5,000 users in its first year of operation in 2003, is a place where people can safely go to inject illegal drugs while being supervised by nurses.
"By all criteria, the Vancouver facility has both saved lives and contributed toward the decreased use of illicit drugs and the reduced spread of HIV infection and other blood-borne infections," Mark Wainberg, the director of the McGill University AIDS Centre in Montreal, wrote in a commentary published on Monday alongside the study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The study, conducted by Dr. Evan Wood, a professor of epidemiology at the University of British Columbia, and his colleagues, found that drug users who visited the site at least once a week were more willing to enter detoxification programs.
The researchers also found that all users in the area, including those with HIV, have been sharing syringes less since the start of the injection site, which is the first of its kind in North America. They have also engaged in other safe injection practices like using sterile water to formulate their drugs and swabbing alcohol on their skin.
Users were less likely to overdose when they used the facility at least once a week, the study found.
The injection site in Vancouver was established in the Downtown Eastside area of the city in late 2003. As of early 2006, it has more than 7,000 registered participants, and the staff have assisted in over 200 overdose cases.
The site has been an epicenter of controversy ever since its establishment. Proponents argue a space like this saves lives and improves the conditions of hygiene for intravenous drug users, and act as a harm reduction strategy for the community overall by reducing the overdose factor as well as the prevalence of blood-borne diseases. Opponents state that the site sends the message out that the government is promoting illegal drug use, and that the site itself is unnecessary, costly, and contribute to crime in the area where it is situated.
In his commentary, Wainberg criticized the Canadian government for cutting grants that would have allowed further study of the injection site, and urged it to draft a legislation to allow similar facilities to operate elsewhere in the country.