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Dialogues on Drug Use


Supervised injection sites solution to curb spread of disease and public nuisance, expert says

VANCOUVER - Supervised injection sites for drug addicts are a healthy option for society and addicted individuals as they will help stem the spread of deadly disease like AIDS and the number of overdose deaths, says a world expert on drug policy reform and critic of the war on drugs.

“There are many misconceptions about supervised or safe injection sites, which actually reduce public nuisance and addicts injecting on the street,” said Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance.

"Some people believe supervised injection sites are evil, immoral and sick just as needle exchanges were once opposed, and that society is better off punishing addicts than helping them. But this is an extremely short-sighted view that treats drug addiction as a criminal rather than a health issue, and research proves that the criminal approach doesn’t work,” he added.

Just as needle exchanges save lives and stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, supervised injection sites are a humane and sensible approach for intravenous drug use, and can be an entry point into the health system for addicts, said Dr. Nadelmann who Rolling Stone magazine called ‘the point man’ for drug policy reform efforts.

"It is perceived that safe injection sites condone intravenous drug use. In fact, what safe sites do is keep people alive and open doors to healthy options like treatment and counselling that they might not otherwise encounter. Instead of making people criminals, safe injection sites help people turn their lives around and reduce the spread of deadly disease,” he said.

Dr. Nadelmann is speaking today in Vancouver giving an address titled: Supervised injection sites and the four-pillar approach to drug policy: How will the U.S. respond? He says the U.S. government is likely to be vocal in its opposition to North America’s first government-sanctioned injection site when it opens in Vancouver later this year, but he doubts U.S. lawmakers will take any significant steps to stop it.

He was invited to Vancouver by a committee of health and community outreach professionals who advocate a harm reduction-based response to drug addiction, and Tides Canada, a national public Foundation.

"Tides Canada believes that on the eve of this historic moment for public health policy in Canada, it is vital that Canadians hear from such an eminent international voice on harm reduction strategies. We believe that Vancouver's four-pillar approach to drug addiction will lead the way in North America for more effective drug policy," said Michael Magee, Tides’ Senior Program Advisor.

While in Vancouver, Dr. Nadelmann met privately with Mayor Larry Campbell, viewed the acclaimed documentary Fix: The Story of an Addicted City, and met with health-care professionals, including those at the Dr. Peter Centre where people with HIV and Aids receive care and support and the Portland Hotel which houses people with mental illness who may also be addicted to intravenous drugs.

"In Canada, health is a public policy issue and we believe that like many other complex chronic illnesses, drug addiction must be treated from a broad public health perspective and not simply from a criminal justice one. That is why we support the four-pillar approach and the opening of a supervised injection site,” said organizing committee representative Dan Reist, who is president of the Vancouver-based Kaiser Foundation which assists communities in preventing and reducing the harm associated with problem substance use and addictive behaviours.

"We understand that the U.S. government opposes this view and may try to obstruct this landmark initiative, which is why we asked Dr. Nadelmann to address the issue with Vancouverites who overwhelmingly supported it in last fall’s municipal election,” he added.

Dr. Nadelmann taught politics and public affairs at Princeton University from 1987 to 1994, where his speaking and writings on drug policy - in publications ranging from Science and Foreign Affairs to American Heritage and National Review - attracted international attention. He also authored the book, Cops Across Borders, the first scholarly study of the internationalization of U.S. criminal law enforcement. 

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