Canadian drug injection site ruled needed service

Tue May 27, 2008 8:45pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian government cannot constitutionally shut North America's only legally-sanctioned drug injection site because it is a needed health service, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

Drug addicts deserve access to health care treatment provided by the Insite facility in Vancouver in the same way that people who use alcohol or tobacco get services, British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Ian Pitfield ruled.

Insite's supporters had gone to court to block any attempt by the federal government to shut down the facility, which requires a special exemption from Canada's drug laws to remain open.

The current exemption expires at the end of June. Ottawa has not said if it will allow it to remain open after that but hinted it would not. The U.S. government has urged Canada to close the facility, arguing that illegal drug use should not be sanctioned.

"Simply stated, I cannot agree with (the) submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative," the judge wrote in the 59-page ruling.

The court extended the exemption until June 2009, by which time the government could revise the drug laws to allow it to remain open indefinitely.

Addicts using drugs such as heroin and cocaine are given clean needles to inject themselves in a room supervised by a nurse. They can then go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the street.

Insite is modeled on similar facilities in Europe. While opponents of the program say it promotes drug use, its backers argue it has cut the spread of disease through shared needles, reduced overdose deaths and helped addicts seeking treatment.   Continued...