Canadian drug-injection site allowed to stay open

Fri Jan 15, 2010 4:19pm EST
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian government must allow Vancouver's Insite facility, North America's only sanctioned drug-injection site, to remain open, a provincial appeals court ruled on Friday.

The facility allows addicts to use their own illegal drugs under supervised conditions, and is the focus of a battle between the federal government, which wants to close it, and local health officials, who say it saves lives.

In a split decision, the British Columbia Court of Appeal rejected Ottawa's bid to end Insite's special exemption from federal drug laws, which has allowed it to operate on a medical trial basis since 2003.

The appeal court's majority upheld a lower court ruling that addicts needed Insite as a medical service, and that the province of British Columbia had the right to keep it open even if the federal government did not like it.

Insite is in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside area which is one of Canada's poorest neighborhoods, with one of country's highest rates of HIV and AIDS, diseases often spread by injection drug use.

Insite and the social and drug problems of the Downtown Eastside are expected to come into the world's media spotlight next month when Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics.

"The health crisis sparked by illegal drug use in the central core of Vancouver demonstrates starkly the need for a practical response to the reality that people are obtaining drugs, using them, and becoming addicted despite a national effort to control their use ... and avoid their abuse," Justice Carol Mahood Huddart wrote in the appeal court's ruling.

Insite's supporters, including local police, say medical studies show it helps addicts by reducing overdose deaths and giving people better access to services to help end their drug addictions.   Continued...