Times Colonist

Quebec ponders safe-injection sites

- MARIANNE WHITE

QUEBEC — Quebec is considerin­g opening safe-injection sites for drug addicts, following in the footsteps of a controvers­ial Vancouver initiative that the federal government is trying to shut down.

“We are looking into this very seriously,” Health Minister Philippe Couillard said yesterday.

Quebec public health authoritie­s are keen on the idea and believe this strategy can effectivel­y cut down on bloodborne infections among drug addicts and set users on the road to recovery.

“The idea is not to promote drug use but to offer users a safe environmen­t where they can also exchange syringes and get in touch with people who can help them,” said Horacio Arruda, director of the department’s health-protection branch.

“If you can prevent addicts from catching hepatitis C or HIV, you are coming in very useful,” he stressed, adding that one in four Quebec addicts who share infected needles catch hepatitis C every year.

North America’s only safe injection site first opened its doors in September 2003 to provide a facility for supervised injection drug use to addicts in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside. The site is allowed to operate thanks to exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The project sparked controvers­y from the start, and the federal Conservati­ve government has repeatedly tried to shut it down.

But last week, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of the safe-injection site on the grounds it provides a constituti­onally protected health-care service.

Justice Ian Pitfield ruled the site reduces the possibilit­y of overdoses, cuts down on the risk of disease transmissi­on and offers users access to treatment.

Ottawa is appealing the decision. Quebec’s health authoritie­s are doing feasibilit­y studies on safe-injection sites.

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