The head of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa is challenging Health Minister Tony Clement to provide evidence for his assertion that safe injection sites don't help drug addicts but instead lead to a form of "harm addition."
CTV.ca News Staff
Clement made the claim at an event held by the World Health Organization at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The event was supposed to promote a WHO "how to" guide on battling HIV and AIDS, the Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday. Health officials and politicians were endorsing, among other measures, the promotion of needle exchange programs and safe injection sites -- similar to Vancouver's Insite clinic.
But instead of unequivocally endorsing the WHO guide, Clement repeated his government's stand against providing legal environments where drug addicts can inject drugs.
"Allowing and/or encouraging people to inject heroin into their veins is not harm reduction, it is the opposite ... We believe it is a form of harm addition," Clement told reporters at the WHO event, according to the Globe and Mail.
Kathleen Cummings, the executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, told CTV.ca, she doesn't understand why a top Canadian official would show up at an endorsement of a program his government does not fully support.
"I think it's pretty embarrassing that he would attend an event that promotes the very things that he criticizes," Cummings said.
"He should not have showed up for the endorsement (of the WHO document)." The WHO document strongly backs facilities like Insite.
"Safe injecting sites are not a new intervention but simply a repackaging of existing WHO-recommended interventions such as needle exchanges, etc.," the document says, according to the Globe and Mail.
"They enable known, WHO-recommended harm reduction interventions to be delivered and used in a safe environment with the aim of reaching the most marginalized and vulnerable of injecting drug users."
The Globe reported Clement's comments against the facilities left officials at the event red-faced and embarrassed. But Cummings said Clement ought to be embarrassed for attending an endorsement he does not completely agree with.
She also challenged the health minister to provide research for his claim the strategy employed by clinics like Insite is a form of "harm addition."
"He should present for proof for that comment," she said, noting study after study has shown safe injection facilities save lives.
More than 25 studies, published in some of the world's leading medical journals, have shown that Vancouver's Insite facility keeps healthcare and law-enforcement budgets down while minimizing harm to addicts.
Cummings said her own experience helping residents in Vancouver's drug-riddled Downtown Eastside shows clinics like Insite work.
"I know women who live in the downtown eastside and who are alive now because of Insite," she said.
Cummings also noted that the Conservative government's stand against safe injection sites isn't economically sound.
"Financially, it's more cost effective to provide prevention than treatment afterwards," she said. The Tories have been fighting to shut down Insite, but lost a court ruling earlier this summer that will allow it to remain open until at least 2009. Ottawa is appealing the decision.