Interesting day Monday.
The Vancouver Police Department urged drug users to inject their drugs at the Insite supervised injection site on the same day the facility’s biggest critic, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, visited the Lower Mainland — and the same day scientists from across Canada criticized the Harper government for muzzling or ignoring science around such programs as Insite.
I’ll have to consult our astrologer Tim Stephens to find out how this all went down.
I’m thinking maybe Mercury was in retrograde, or something like that.
All three events got ample media coverage.
But I wasn’t so sure the VPD media release about Insite warranted the kind of coverage it got. That’s because the VPD urging drug users to fix at Insite is not some sudden policy shift from the department; some of the media reports I read and heard took that tone.
The VPD issued the release because two people recently died of suspected heroin overdoses. One died in an apartment on Boundary Road, the other — a 15-year-old girl — died in an apartment on Haro Street.
Those deaths prompted the cops to urge drug users to be “extremely cautious and utilize the services of Insite, which is staffed by medical personnel that can intervene in the event of an overdose.”
For the record, this is not the first time the department recommended drug users go to Insite to do their injections. A quick search of the VPD’s website and my files reveals police recommended three times in 2011 that drug users shoot up at Insite. Here are the details:
- Jan. 17, 2011 — The VPD urges drug users to use Insite after two women — one 19, the other, 26 — died from what is believed to be heroin overdoses.
- July 16, 2011 — The VPD issues a public warning to drug users to be careful of the drugs they use after a large quantity of potentially toxic drugs were stolen in three separate pharmacy robberies. “As always,” the release read, “drug users need to be extremely cautious and utilize the services of Insite.”
- Aug. 30, 2011 — Another pharmacy robbery prompts the VPD to urge drug users to use Insite.
Additionally, in September 2006, Deputy Chief Doug LePard congratulated the federal government for extending Insite’s exemption under the country’s drug laws so it could continue operating.
The VPD’s support for Insite is in stark contrast to the views of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who has panned injection sites. Blair believes they send confusing messages to the public that drugs are illegal but an injection site is not.
All this talk about Insite comes as the facility will celebrate its 10th anniversary of operation this Saturday. It remains the only legal injection site in North America and has recorded more than two million injections without an overdose death.
That same remarkable record of no deaths can’t, however, be said for Onsite, the detox facilities above the injection room. As I reported in September 2012, a 42-year-old man died in a bathtub.
The B.C. Coroners Service finally sent me a report on the case and concluded that Ronald Henri died of an accidental morphine overdose. Henri was one of 69 people who died of a suspected drug overdose in Vancouver in 2012.
As of Sept. 3, the coroners service was investigating 43 suspected overdose deaths this year. The two recent deaths would bring the total to 45, unless there have been more that I haven’t heard about.
Though alarming, the overdose death rate is significantly lower than the 1,245 people who died in Vancouver between 1992 and 2000. The open drug market in the Downtown Eastside, however, is still very much alive.
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