Ottawa to appeal ruling on drug injection facility

Thu May 29, 2008 5:17pm EDT
 

By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian government will appeal a provincial court ruling that would allow North America's only sanctioned drug injection site to remain open, Health Minister Tony Clement said on Thursday.

A British Columbia judge ruled this week that the Insite facility in Vancouver provided addicts with a needed medical service, and struck down provisions of the country's drug laws that would have allowed Ottawa to close it.

The provincially funded facility opened in 2003 and operates under an exemption from national drug laws. But that exemption expires at the end of June and Clement had hinted that Ottawa would not grant another.

Clement told the House of Common's health committee in Ottawa that the science supporting Insite was "mixed," but the government had an obligation to protect its drug laws and that "public policy was clear."

"In my opinion, supervised injection is not medicine. It does not heal the person addicted to drugs," Clement said in his prepared remarks. "We can do better than simply warehousing people addicted to drugs for palliative care.

This week's court ruling continued Insite's operating extension until June 2009, by which time the federal government was supposed to have revised the drug laws to allow it to remain open.

Insite, which has strong local support, is modeled on similar facilities in Europe.

Addicts of heroin and cocaine are given clean needles to inject themselves with their own drugs, in a room supervised by a nurse. They can then go to a "chill-out room" before returning to the street.

Its backers say the scientific reviews of the facility have shown it has cut the spread of disease through shared needles, reduced overdose deaths and helped addicts seeking treatment.

But opponents say it promotes drug use and the government should not sanction illegal activity. The U.S. government has urged Ottawa to close the facility.

Clement cited a new government-sponsored study that said Insite was having only a limited impact on the surrounding Vancouver Downtown Eastside neighborhood, which is considered to have one Canada's worst drug problems.

The opposition Liberal Party said the Conservative government's decision was "based on ideology, not on scientific fact." The British Columbia government said it was disappointed the court's ruling would be appealed.

Victoria, British Columbia, has said it also wants to establish a facility if Insite is to remain in operation, and some U.S. communities have looked at it as a potential model.

(Editing by Rob Wilson)