VANCOUVER - Delegates from Colombia and Brazil hope to replicate Vancouver's innovative approach to harm reduction around illegal drug use even as the Canadian government aims to impose stricter rules for opening supervised injection sites.
Representatives of Viva Rio, a non-profit organization in Rio De Janeiro, and a government official from Colombia visited Insite, Vancouver's safe injection site, on Tuesday, saying they're looking for a way to lower the impact of drug use in their countries.
Ines Mejia, an advisor to Colombia's public health ministry, said marijuana and cocaine are the most prevalent drugs in the country, particularly in large cities such as Medelline and Bogota.
However, she said the country is witnessing a rise in heroine consumption, and there are few resources available to respond to the drug use. Mejia said she hopes to sell the Vancouver model of needle-exchange programs to her government when she gets home.
"The money that is allotted to drugs is more than anything used in supplies for fighting the drug lords, the illicit plantations," she said through an interpreter.
"The internal use of drugs in our country is just starting to be identified, so the percentage of those resources being used now is only at 10 per cent. It's very low."
The visit came in the wake of new federal legislation tabled earlier this month that would require a list of conditions to be met before new Canadian facilities can be allowed to open.
The conditions listed in Bill C-65 include requiring applicants of drug injection sites to consult with community, provincial and municipal authorities, as well as law enforcement, before they will be granted an exemption that allows for illegal drugs to be used for medical and scientific purposes and for activities that are in the public interest.
The bill, called the Respect for Communities Act, didn't pass through Parliament before the House recessed for summer.
Liz Evans, executive director of the Portland Hotel Society, which co-manages Insite, said many countries have expressed an interest in the supervised injection facility since it opened in 2003. Just weeks ago, the deputy mayor of Rio De Janeiro visited the facility in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics and the Fifa World Cup next year.
"It's sort of shocking that in our own country, the acknowledgment isn't there that this is actually saving lives and improving the health of the community in a very effective way," Evans said.
No one from the federal Ministry of Health responded to a request for an interview on the subject.
Earlier this week, a report by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS said that Vancouver's approach to illicit drug use is effective because the number of people reported sharing needles dropped dramatically between 1996 and 2011.
The report also concluded that the health of drug users has improved, and more people are accessing addictions treatment.
Evans said lawyers are currently examining how Bill C-65 could impact Insite's potential to renew its exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
A Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2011 allowed the Vancouver clinic to stay open despite the Conservative government's repeated objections.
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