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B.C.’s Aboriginal Addicts, Among Highest Overdose Deaths, Find Safe Haven at InSite

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With aboriginals more likely to die of drug overdose and be infected with HIV-AIDs, a center in Vancouver that allows them to inject in a safe environment aims to reduce the number of fatalities and illness.

Be it coke, heroin or any number of other drugs, addicts flock to the center in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to inject themselves at one of the 12 tables lining the mirrored walls.

Here, at “the only ‘safe injection’ site in North America,” addicts inject themselves with whatever they just bought on the street, watched over by a nurse, The New York Times reported in its February 7 profile of the center.

This seems to have reduced the number of new HIV infections among Vancouver addicts, The New York Times said.

Meanwhile, the news site Westender reported from another recent study, the majority of overdose deaths occur among First Nations people, especially women.

“The study, conducted by the Urban Health Research Initiative, a program operating out of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BCCFE) and published in the journal Addiction, reviewed coroners’ reports of all fatal overdoses in the province between 2001 and 2005—more than 900 in total,” Westender reported.

“By looking through those files, it became apparent to us, just by skimming the data, that far too many of these people were of First Nations ancestry,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, one of the study’s senior authors, to Westender. “And when we actually did a rigorous evaluation, sure enough, we found that people of First Nations ancestry were about three times more likely to die of a drug-related overdose.”

Aboriginal people comprise only four percent of the general B.C. population, the Westender said, but account for 12 per cent of the province’s overdose deaths, with one in five of those deaths occurring in the Downtown Eastside.

InSite not only helps reduce overdose deaths but also is lowering the rate of HIV infection, The New York Times said.

“By offering clean needles and aggressively testing and treating those who may be infected with HIV, Vancouver is offering proof that an idea that was once controversial actually works: Widespread treatment, while expensive, protects not just individuals but the whole community,” the paper said.

The Times noted that a July 2010 study by the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS published in the Lancet and funded by the British Columbian Ministry of Health Services, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and two other organizations found that between 1996 and 2009 the number of British Columbians taking anti-HIV medications increased more than sixfold, to 5,413, or about 80 percent of the HIV-infected population, while the number of annual new infections dropped by 52 percent.

The Westender meanwhile focused on overdose deaths, noting that although the annual rate declined in B.C. between 2001 and 2005, from 244 to 133, the death rate among First Nations people “remained disproportionately high.”