A clinic in Vancouver’s West End is now the second sanctioned supervised-injection facility in North America.
The Dr. Peter Centre at the corner of Comox and Thurlow streets joins the Downtown Eastside’s Insite facility in receiving a Health Canada exemption from Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Staff at the Dr. Peter Centre are now legally permitted to deliver health-care services to heroin addicts that include providing a safe environment for intravenous drug use and supplying users with needles and other equipment used to inject heroin. Nurses are also prepared to intervene with life-saving measures should an overdose occur. (Practitioners do not supply or handle the drugs.)
As previously reported by the Straight, the Dr. Peter Centre has actually offered those services since 2002. That was done with tacit approval from the Vancouver Police Department and the B.C. Ministry of Health. The College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia also supported its members’ participation in the program. Supervised injection at the Dr. Peter Centre nevertheless remained illegal under federal law until Health Canada’s official permission came today.
In a January 15 media release, B.C.’s health minister, Terry Lake, was quoted welcoming the news.
“The evidence is clear—supervised injection services prevent overdose deaths and save lives,” he said. “They have become a valued part of health services in Vancouver and are an important part of our response to substance use and addiction. We continue to support supervised injection along with other harm reduction services.”
The Dr. Peter Centre is primarily a care facility for people living with HIV/AIDS. It operates under a partnership between the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
There is one important distinction between supervised-injection services offered at the Dr. Peter Centre and those Insite provides in the 100 block of East Hastings. While Insite allows anybody to bring heroin into its building and use the drug under the watch of health-care workers there, the Dr. Peter Centre requires that a drug user accessing its services is a member of the foundation living with HIV/AIDS.
VCH’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Patricia Daly, put the news in the context of an increased risk to opiate drug users.
“Overdose deaths in Vancouver are on the rise and supervised injection services, like those provided at the Dr. Peter Centre and Insite, are needed now more than ever,” she said. “Health Canada’s approval of this exemption application paves the way for us to explore additional opportunities for incorporating supervised injection into existing health care services for those suffering from addiction.”
That was likely a reference to a plan the Straight reported on in June 2014. Interviewed for that story, Daly suggested the Dr. Peter Centre could serve as a model that other clinics interested in offering supervised-injection services could follow.
Instead of hosting such services at a stand-alone facility with significant startup costs and high administration fees, the Dr. Peter Centre was built to include a small injection room. That allows nurses already providing a range of health services to simply offer one more, Daly explained.
“That’s very inexpensive,” she said. “That’s the kind of model that we’d like in order to be able to expand this service.”
A January 15 Health Canada release states that the decision to allow the Dr. Peter Centre to continuing providing supervised-injection services was the result of a “rigorous, evidence-based review”.
“Supervised consumption sites provide a controlled space where people can bring their own illicit substances to consume under the supervision of health-care professionals, and gain access to other health and social services including treatment,” it reads. “International and Canadian evidence shows that, when properly established and managed, supervised consumption sites have the potential to save lives and improve health without increasing drug use and crime in the surrounding area.”
The Dr. Peter Centre’s application for an exemption was filed with Health Canada in January 2014.
It included letters of support from Mayor Gregor Robertson, the Vancouver Police Department, St. Paul’s Hospital, as well as community groups such as the West End Residents Association, the West End Business Improvement Association, and the Mole Hill Community Housing Society.
After the long wait, the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation’s executive director, Maxine Davis, was quoted saying benefits of the decision will extend beyond the one treatment facility.
“This announcement is a significant step forward for Canadian health care,” she said. “The Government of Canada has recognized that supervised injection reduces the harms of drug use for people who are actively addicted to injectable drugs.”