LOCAL NEWS

Why Vancouver BC is investing even more in safe injection sites

Jan 17, 2018, 5:55 AM | Updated: 7:51 pm
safe injection sites...
A mural encourages people to pick up the overdose antidote Narcan at a nearby "safe injection site" on the east side of downtown Vancouver, Canada. (AP Photo/Jeremy Hainsworth)
(AP Photo/Jeremy Hainsworth)

While Washington communities preemptively ban safe injection sites, their neighbor to the north is expanding its efforts to provide more facilities and even government-backed drug alternatives to the illegal supply.

“I believe that to engage people in care and supply them with safe drugs is the first step to recovery for many people,” Dr. Mark Tyndall told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

“We’ve really tried to scale things up and look at things differently the last two or three years as the explosion of overdose deaths happened,” he said.

RELATED: Seattle to spend $2 million on drug facility

Dr. Tyndall is executive director of British Columbia’s Center for Disease Control and a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia. He has been involved with the region’s harm reduction efforts since the 1990s, and he helped open Vancouver’s famous Insite safe injection site in 2003.

While many critics and proponents have focused on the Insite location in Vancouver’s Hastings neighborhood, there are far more similar facilities in the region. And more are on the way. There are about six safe injection sites in Vancouver, Tyndall notes. And there are about 20 overdose prevention sites throughout the province.

Still, Tyndall said that more than 1,400 people died from overdoses in 2017, an increase from 1,000 in 2016. There were more than 20,000 overdose calls in 2017.

Safe injection sites

Tyndall says that the data collected over the years in BC shows that the safe injection approach works. After someone overdoses at an injection site, there is staff to offer substitution therapy, housing, etc.

“We have great data from all the work we’ve done at Insite showing it’s an extremely effective way to connect with people, and these other sites are extremely busy,” he said. “So a lot of people who would be isolated and using their drugs, and in this environment dying by themselves, now have a place to go to connect and there are many overdoses that have been reversed at these sites across the province.”

The primary goal of the sites is to prevent deaths, which has been criticized in the past by those who argue treatment should be a top priority.

“It’s a pretty naïve expectation that people arrive at a site and are so-called cured of their addictions,” he said, further arguing that if an addict isn’t ready to make a change, they will not be successful. In the meantime, injection sites will keep them alive.

“We really need to be compassionate and give people opportunities, and provide a lot of support,” Tyndall said. “I strongly believe that allowing people to come forward and use their drugs under supervision is a good first step for a lot of people.”

Prescription opiates

Another emerging tactic to fight the opioid epidemic in British Columbia is providing a substitute to illegal heroin. Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic has run trials for about eight years, providing prescription heroin to addicts. Participants were offered either heroin or hydromorphone, which is similar. Tyndall said a study showed that addicts cannot tell the difference between the two drugs. The pills are provided to addicts and then used like heroin — crushed, injected, etc.

“We are expanding some of that as we speak across the province,” Tyndall said. “So there is a real move to give other people opportunities to do that. The problem is, though, in this particular overdose epidemic, this is an expensive and intensive program. For many people, they are not wanting to be that medicalized that they have to go to a clinic three times a day and see a nurse, and do their injections.”

Tyndall wants to study hydromorphone further. The argued benefit of the government-provided drugs is similar to safe injection sites — addicts stay alive long enough to get to the point they want treatment.

“What they are taking now is almost all fentanyl … and other derivatives,” Tyndall said. “The whole landscape has changed dramatically over the last 2.5 years. In Vancouver, it was always possible to get fairly high-grade heroin. People could overdose on heroin, but most people knew what dose they were getting … overdoses occurred but weren’t that common. Now, everything has changed and every injection or inhalation, it’s a form of Russian roulette people are playing. To me, it’s not good enough to tell people that if you don’t want treatment, all you can do is go to the alley to get more of this poison and probably die.”

Medically, not criminally

Vancouver’s approach is part of a move to treat the opioid epidemic as a medical concern, not a criminal issue. Doctors like Tyndall argue that the criminal justice system and prohibition failed to adequately fight drugs, even before the modern crisis.

But that can be a controversial stance. Tyndall would prefer that opioids are provided as easily as marijuana is in states where recreational use is legal.

“That would be my goal,” he said. “When it gets down to what we’ve done with prohibition and how we’ve created this horrible environment for people self-medicating, trying to get by, we label them as criminals, hunt them down and throw them in jail. This is obviously not the best way to go about this. If we accept this as a medical condition … we need to deal with the drivers of how they got there in the first place, but in the meantime, we make sure they aren’t dying of fentanyl overdoses.”

Local News

stolen school bus...
MyNorthwest Staff

Man arrested in Seattle after stealing empty school bus, ramming vehicles

Seattle police arrested a man in the Central District on Tuesday after he stole an empty school bus and rammed it into other vehicles.
14 hours ago
covid pill, vaccines, vaccination...
Kathryn Altena

Seattle to open new COVID vaccination clinic in West Seattle

The City of Seattle will be opening a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Neighborhood House in the High Point neighborhood, in West Seattle.
14 hours ago
Lorena Gonzalez...
MyNorthwest Staff

Lorena Gonzalez removes campaign ad labeled ‘racial stereotype’ by opponent

Seattle mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez apologizes for a campaign advertisement criticized by Black civic leaders for perpetuating racial stereotypes
14 hours ago
Renton couple, wildfire...
Heather Bosch

Renton couple recounts unimaginable loss, road to recovery following escape from 2020 wildfire

A Renton couple who suffered unimaginable loss during an Eastern Washington wildfire in September of 2020 continues to recover.
14 hours ago
Lawsuit chicken manufacturers...
Nick Bowman

Washington AG files lawsuit over ‘sweeping conspiracy’ involving chicken manufacturers

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Tuesday that his office has filed a lawsuit against 19 major chicken manufacturers. 
14 hours ago
Election Day, King County ballots...
Nick Bowman

One week to Election Day as Seattle, King County ballots begin flowing in

Election Day is just a week away, with King County reporting that just over 9% of ballots have been returned as of Monday evening. 
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
...
Comcast

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Why Vancouver BC is investing even more in safe injection sites