Injecting Social Change

Injecting Social Change

By: David Swanson
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Opened September 21 2003, Vancouver InSite is North America’s first and only supervised injection facility.  Located in the heart of the Downtown East Side, the clinic supplies drug addicts with a safe, clean, and structured environment in which to inject their drugs.   The facility’s central mission is based on reducing the harms associated with injection drugs for both the users and the community. It provides care to people with addictions, mental illness, and diseases, acting as a first step to improved health, and eventually recovery. They are applying guidelines and controlled methodology to help guide their scientific research project.  The clinic is gathering data in an attempt to justify its existence as a necessary, productive, and results focused endeavour that produces positive social results.

Participants of InSite are drugs users, often addicted to more than one drug. They are frequently mentally ill; homeless; of Aboriginal descent; or have a history of trauma. Many also have HIV/AIDS, or hepatitis C. Participants using the supervised injection site are logged into a database using a false name before injecting, which allows InSite staff to track usage without compromising the participants’ anonymity.  When using these facilities, the participants have access to clean injection equipment, including syringes, sterile cookers, filters, and water.  Research has shown that the use of this equipment has actually reduced the spread of infectious diseases and soft tissue damage, both of which are common damages of intravenous drugs users.

InSite benefits both participants and the community by:

Connecting participants to programs: InSite engages a marginalized population that is hard to reach through conventional methods, mainly due to their struggles with homelessness, one or more mental illnesses, injection drug addictions and trauma.

Limiting the spread of disease: InSite participants have access to clean equipment and educational programs that help limit the spread of diseases.

Preventing overdose: Participants injecting at InSite are supervised by nurses, who ensure that medical help is immediate should an overdose occur. To date, well over 2400 overdoses have occurred at InSite, with no fatalities.

Increase public order: InSite contributes to increased public order by helping to limit public injections and discarded syringes.

Providing cost-effective health care: Preventative health measures provided by InSite (by limiting overdose deaths and the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C) saves the health care system over $6 million annually.

If you wish to learn more about the Vancouver InSite Project please visit for further information. InSite is also currently exploring possible candidates for a volunteer coordinator position so if you wish to apply please contact Russ Maynard at

By David Swanson

Posted on August 23, 2010