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North American Legal Injection Drug Site Helps Decrease Overdose Deaths, Study Shows

North America’s only authorized facility for injecting illegal drugs has helped cut drug overdose deaths significantly in the Vancouver community where it is located and “should be used as a model in other cities,” according to a study published on Monday in the Lancet, Reuters reports (Dowd, 4/18).

Originally opened in 2003 in response to a rising number of HIV cases and overdose deaths, previous research has “demonstrated the facility’s ability to reduce HIV risk behaviour, increase access to addiction treatment and primary health care services, and reduce health care costs in the long term,” according to a joint press release from the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, whose researchers led the study.

“Compared to the 35 percent reduction in overdose deaths in the immediate vicinity of [the facility] following its opening in September 2003, overdose deaths in the rest of Vancouver declined only nine per cent over the same period,” according to the study, the release adds.

Co-author Julio Montaner, director of the BC-CfE and chair of AIDS Research at the UBC Faculty of Medicine, said, “This study provides the first unequivocal scientific evidence of the benefits of supervised injection facilities, and clearly demonstrates that facilities such as Insite are saving lives and playing a vital role in reducing the harms associated with illicit drug use,” according to the release (4/18).

The center, which is operated by Insite and funded by the province of British Columbia, requires an exemption from Canada’s drug laws to remain in operation. But the Canadian government “has said it wants to shut down the facility” because its official trial period has ended, and the United States “has urged Canada to shut down the facility,” Reuters writes (4/18). The legality of the facility has been the subject of a protracted legal battle, and a Supreme Court of Canada case on its status is scheduled to be heard in May, the Globe and Mail reports (Picard, 4/17).

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