Report Says Vancouver “Safe Injection” Site a Failure



December 18, 2007

By Gudrun Schultz  Lifesite News

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 4, 2007 ( – A Vancouver safe-injection site for drug addicts has not reached the goals that proponents of the facility claim, according to a new study published Wednesday in the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice.

The controversial Insite facility, the first of its kind in North America, opened as a pilot project over three years ago in Vancouver‘s notorious Downtown Eastside. Heroin or cocaine addicts are provided with clean needles and allowed to inject themselves with their own heroin or cocaine under a nurse’s supervision.
Supporters claim the site reduces overdoses and HIV infection-transfers among injection drug users by preventing them from sharing needles. Crime rates are also said to have dropped in the vicinity of the site.

According to a new study authored by Colin Mangham, director of research with the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, those claims are faulty and ignore research showing the project has failed to reach its goals, the Canadian Press reported May 3.

“[The findings] give an impression the facility is successful, when in fact the research clearly shows a lack of program impact and success,” Mangham said.

Studies published in top medical journals, including the Lancet, the British Medical Journal and the New England Journal of Medicine, claim that Insite has produced a reduction in public disorder, crime and overdose deaths.  Mangham disputed those findings saying the studies assume that overdoses occurring at the site would have led to deaths if they had happened on the street. 

“We do not know if any of the overdoses would have resulted in death outside the side,” Mangham said in his study.

“The number of overdose deaths in Vancouver and the Downtown Eastside has increased since Insite started up. This…at least suggests that in its three years of operation Insite has produced no impact on overdose deaths.”

Mangham said a 2005 study published in the American Journal of Infectious Diseases that reported a reduction in needle sharing among addicts using Insite was misleading.

“Only exclusive use of Insite correlates with reduced sharing. If someone uses Insite for all their injections, it goes without saying they would not share needles. Only one in 10 HIV negative participants reported using Insite for all their injections.”

As well, Mangham’s study attributes a reduction in public disorder and crime in the area to an increase in police presence, saying it was not due to the facility.

Initial reports on the facility claimed the initiative was successful because of the high volume of users–as many as 600 per day. Within a six-month span in the first year of operation there were 107 overdoses reported among 72 “clients” of the facility, the report also acknowledged. As well, the report stated that only 2.3 per cent of addicts using the site contacted a nurse or counselor, saying, “visits to Insite for nursing care or counseling have been uncommon to date.”

The Conservative government has extended the program’s operation until Dec. 31, 2007, calling for additional research into the success rate of supervised injection sites.

Randy White, president of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, said Mangham’s study could have an impact on the future of the Insite facility.

“There are people in Vancouver and throughout the country who do not agree with the project and would like to see a balancing of the reports and evaluations and I think this is the first time and I think that’s good,” White said

Prevention and treatment are the best approaches to dealing with substance additions, he said.

Federal Health Minister Tony Clement announced in September 2006 that no further safe injection sites would be established in Canada until the Vancouver review is completed.

See previous LifeSiteNews coverage:

Vancouver “Safe” Drug Injection Site Claims “Success” with 600 Users a Day

Vancouver Mayor and MP Libby Davies Pushing for “Harm Reduction” for Crack and Prostitution

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