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Canada gives more time to drug injection site
 
Allan Dowd
Reuters

A worker holds a tray and injection kit that will be handed out to drug users as they enter North America's first government-sanctioned injection site for addicts in Vancouver, British Columbia, September 15, 2003. The government granted another reprieve on Tuesday to Vancouver's Insite facility, saying it wants more research before deciding its fate. REUTERS/Andy Clark
CREDIT:
A worker holds a tray and injection kit that will be handed out to drug users as they enter North America's first government-sanctioned injection site for addicts in Vancouver, British Columbia, September 15, 2003. The government granted another reprieve on Tuesday to Vancouver's Insite facility, saying it wants more research before deciding its fate. REUTERS/Andy Clark

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The government granted another reprieve on Tuesday to North America's only sanctioned injection site for drug addicts, saying it wants more research before deciding its fate.

Vancouver's Insite facility had faced closure at the end of the year, but Health Minister Tony Clement notified the local health authority that the injection site can stay open until June 30, 2008.

The facility, which opened in 2003 as part of a research project in Vancouver's poor, drug-infested Downtown Eastside neighborhood, needs an exemption from Canada's drug laws to remain in operation.

Ottawa has been weighing Insite's long-term future, and the six-month extension will allow continued research on its impact on efforts to promote drug treatment programs and reduce crime, Clement said.

Addicts using drugs such as heroin and cocaine are given clean needles to inject with at the facility in a room supervised by a nurse. After shooting up, they go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the street.

Insite receives more than 600 addict visits daily.

Insite's supporters, including Vancouver police, say studies have already shown it has prevented overdose deaths and helped get addicts into treatment. They say it also has slowed the sharing of needles, which is how AIDS and other diseases are often spread.

Insite received a similar reprieve last year.

"This is the second time that the federal government has stalled on this decision, and said that more research is needed. But the fact is, Minister Clement is asking questions that have already been answered and calling for research that's already been done," said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian AIDS/HIV Legal Network.

But Insite's critics, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have complained that the government should not be sanctioning illegal drug use. The U.S. government has complained that Insite is a weak link in Canada's anti-drug efforts.

Questions about Insite's fate had been fueled by the government's announcement last weekend that it was ready to unveil a new national drug strategy expected to emphasize a tougher stand on illegal drug use.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which oversees the facility, was pleased with the announcement and ready to supply federal officials with any additional information they need, spokeswoman Viviana Zanocco said.

Victoria, British Columbia, has said it also wants permission to establish a drug injection facility, but the federal government has ruled out setting up any new sites until the research in Vancouver is completed.

© Reuters 2007


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