Insite’s proven benefits ignored in political fray

TheStarPhoenix.com – news/decision-canada/opinion/editorial
April 25, 2011.    Editorial

Since all three federal parties have sworn fealty to Canada’s system of publicly funded health care, one would have thought that a peer-reviewed study that showed how one Canadian program has decreased mortality by 35 per cent would have no shortage of champions.

But, except for a handful of health experts and harm-reduction strategists, there has been silence along the campaign trails.

The British medical journal, The Lancet, last week published a study by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS that indicated that since Insite, the Vancouver-based safe injection site, opened in September of 2003, the number of overdose deaths in the immediate area has declined by 35 per cent.

This isn’t the first research project to indicate the effectiveness of Insite. Other studies have focused on health issues such as the spread of HIV, of hepatitis C, how Insite has impacted on public order in the neighbourhood, and what impact the site had in reducing addictions while increasing addicts’ participation in detox programs.

In all circumstances, the studies indicated the site has been an over-the-top success. So much so that both the governing B.C. Liberal party and the Opposition NDP, as well as the Vancouver city council, have endorsed the project.

Yet, rather than been allowed to flourish and prosper, Insite has been hamstrung by legal challenges launched from far-away Ottawa. The Conservative government has insisted the people of Vancouver and British Columbia shouldn’t have a say in this aspect of their health care, because the use of contraband narcotics is a federal criminal matter.

So far the courts have all favoured B.C., citing the medical evidence of prior studies. Officials hope this added study, showing that having the site saves lives, would add weight to the jurisdictional dispute to be argued before the Supreme Court on May 12.

But the argument over the whether health-care dollars should be squandered to support a law-and-order agenda that is a proven failure, or be used to actually improve the health of citizens is one for the politicians, not the courts.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has promised that within 100 days of achieving a majority mandate he would present Parliament with an omnibus crime bill that would in effect revert Canada’s legal and health systems to 19th-century standards.

Throwing out evidence in favour of ideology is not a difficult task. After all, it was the basis of the Harper government’s decision to do away with the mandatory long-form census this year. It is much easier to enact policy changes if descriptions of the consequences are based on emotion, not facts.

For evidence, one need only consider the annual debate over Needle Safe Saskatoon’s program to distribute safe needles and collect used ones. The epidemiological evidence supporting the effectiveness of this program in reducing the spread of disease, crime and suffering not only is strong, but it also reflects the results of similar programs studies by various groups from all over the world.

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