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Vancouver's supervised injection site can save health-care system $20 million: study.

Vancouver’s supervised drug injection site can save the Canadian health-care system as much as $20 million and substantially increase a population’s life span over a 10-year period, according to a study to be published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The study, which used a computer simulation model, measured the projected impacts on Vancouver in the next decade with and without its controversial Insite facility, the only such facility in Canada.

It found that, when the only impact of such a facility is assumed to be a reduction in the prevalence of needle-sharing by drug users, there is a projected net saving of nearly $14 million over 10 years.

The facility would also increase the drug-using population’s life span, resulting in what the study calls a gain of 920 life years compared with a model that had no supervised injection site.

When additional factors such as overdose survival rates, the incidence of HIV and hepatitis C infections, and the frequency of referrals to social services were included, the financial savings rose to as much as $20 million, with the number of life years gained rising to 1,070.

A total of 1,191 cases of HIV infection and 54 cases of hepatitis C infection could be averted over a decade with the operation of the facility, according to the study, by Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the University of Toronto, along with Gregory Zaric of the University of Western Ontario in London.

“The conclusion that my co-author and I would want to put forward is that we believe that Insite does provide good value for money, if you were to look at the cost-effectiveness,” Zaric said. “This study ultimately brings one more piece of information when deciding the fate of Insite.”

The study quoted a number of other studies over the years that have observed the impact of the safe injection site.

The report said Insite had other positive impacts on the community, including “a decrease in needle sharing and reuse of syringes, fewer people injecting drugs in public, an increase in referrals to social services and addiction counselling, a decrease in the number of publicly discarded syringes, no apparent increase in police reports of drug-dealing or crime, and no observed increase in new initiates into drug use.”

The study’s authors say the findings can be applied only to Vancouver, since the simulation was tailored to the city’s population figures, including drug users who went to Insite and those who did not and the number of downtown residents.

The findings are also sensitive to the assumption of a number of factors, including how often the facility is used, the risk of HIV transmission by sharing needles and the frequency of safe infection practices among users at the clinic.

Insite has operated in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside since 2003 under a federal exemption of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Last May, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that Insite should be allowed to operate for another year, even if it does not have a specific exemption from the federal government.

The court ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose ordinary drug laws on addicts using a supervised injection site.

The federal government appealed the ruling and the appeal is scheduled to be heard next April.

Insite provides a “safe, health-focused place” where drug addicts can go to inject drugs and connect to other health-care and social services, according to its website.

It serves about 600 to 1,100 users daily and is funded by the B.C. government.

source:  Canwest News Service

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