I was working here in Vancouver before Insite opened and I remember how difficult it was to provide even basic public health services to injection drug users in the Downtown Eastside because there were people who thought we were just enabling drug users (e.g. the first flu immunization campaigns). We’ve come a long way since then.
This Saturday we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the InSite Supervised Injection Site, an accomplishment and program that I think we should all, at VCH, feel quite proud of.
We’re almost passed the stigma associated with harm reduction. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen the benefits of harm reduction and we’ve answered the question about whether Insite increases drug use. We made sure we evaluated that after we opened Insite because of those very concerns. The studies have shown that’s not the case. In fact, over the last decade or more, we’ve seen a decrease in injection drug use. And on top of that we’ve found that Downtown Eastside residents are living longer than ever before.
Insite is still the only supervised injection facility in North America – and that disappoints me. We still have to justify harm reduction and why it is essential along with prevention and treatment (not instead of prevention and treatment). Other cities are looking to open similar sites and these cities will have similar questions to those we’ve had here. What we can do is present the facts, the data and let those numbers speak for the program.
Insite is now very much accepted by the people of Vancouver. It has advanced our understanding about addictions and our ability to engage marginalized, addicted people more than anything else we have done over the last decade. We have the data. We know HIV rates are falling dramatically among injection users and harm reduction is one of the reasons for that.
We’ve come a long way, but still have more to go. What do you think?