Safe injection site planned for Edmonton

Edmonton may soon have a safe place for addicts to inject drugs, similar to the Insite facility in Vancouver.

One of four Edmonton drug users share needles, 80 per cent injected in public, survey says

The Insite clinic in Vancouver allows intravenous drug users to inject in a safe, clean environment under the supervision of medical personnel, like the nurse shown in this image. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Edmonton may soon have a safe place for addicts to inject drugs, similar to the Insite facility in Vancouver which focuses on harm reduction and intervention.

Elaine Hyshka, a researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, is part of a group looking to set up the local site, which would offer users clean needles, sterile water and supervision by medical staff. 

"This service can be very valuable for anywhere that has a population of people that inject drugs," she said. "In Edmonton that tends to be concentrated in the inner city."

Hyshka says 320 hour-long interviews conducted with Edmonton inner-city drug users in 2014 found that 90 per cent had injected drugs in the last six months, 80 per cent had injected in public and 26 per cent had shared needles.

The survey leads Hyshka to believe that a safe injection clinic would save lives.

"When people inject in public, they basically increase every risk associated with injecting drugs," she said.

"That's because people who are injecting on the streets or alleys or bathrooms typically don't have access to sterile supplies.

"They don't have access to sterile water that's necessary for injecting and they're more likely as a result to potentially share needles."

Police association worried

The federal Conservatives fought the Insite project by taking it to court. However, in 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the government to grant a necessary exemption to the clinic to allow it to operate.

Elaine Hyshka, a researcher in the School of Public Health at the Universty of Alberta, found 26 per cent of Edmonton drug users surveyed in 2014 shared needles with other users. (CBC )

The new Liberal government is far more friendly to the idea of safe injection sites. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, a medical doctor, toured Insite in January and said she was moved by what she saw.

Philpott also approved a second safe injection site that was already open in Vancouver.

Still, the idea of a clinic in Edmonton is raising some concerns.

Sgt. Maurice Brodeur, president of the Edmonton Police Association, worries the facility will allow people to bring their own drugs, which could potentially be contaminated.

He worries people will inject drugs and leave the facility, only to have a bad reaction on a nearby street.

"Is that a good thing for that community?" he asked.

Hyshka says people at safe injection sites tell people what they are injecting when they check in. They have a place where they can sit and be observed by medical personnel afterwards.

She says people who inject in public lack immediate access to emergency medical help if something goes wrong.  

Hyshka says no decisions have been made on a site or a delivery model. She thinks it could be year or more before the proposal receives the necessary federal approvals.


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