CAMILLE BAINS -Canadian Press
VANCOUVER -- Drug addicts who shoot up at Vancouver's safe-injection site will soon have a place to start getting clean as the facility expands to include detox beds and short-term housing.
As of mid-September, intravenous drug users at the supervised injecting facility called Insite will not have to wait for detox beds elsewhere, but instead will be able to go directly into a detoxification facility on the second floor of the same building where they've been getting their fix.
The detox floor will include 12 rooms (each with its own bathroom), a common area, kitchen and examination room, where a doctor or nurse will assess users and others will provide counselling. As at any other detox facility, addicts will not be allowed to use drugs, and will have to leave if they do.
Those who are homeless or don't want to return to living in a place where people are using drugs, can then move to the third floor of the building to stay in one of 18 rooms for temporary shelter.
The addition to Insite, dubbed Onsite, will receive funding from the provincial government for one year.
Earl Crowe, a 46-year-old recovering heroin addict, said he injected drugs at Insite for two years before getting into a methadone program. Mr. Crowe, a drug user since his early 20s, said he might have detoxed at Onsite had the facility been there when he needed it.
"When you're a junkie and you want detox you want it right now because you don't care about tomorrow," he said, adding that he's particularly impressed by that each room will have its own bathroom. "It's very painful to withdraw and you really don't want to be around people and you're going to be doing a lot of throwing up," he explained, adding that communal bathrooms in dormitory-style detox centres don't offer the privacy people need at such a vulnerable time.
Thomas Kerr, a research scientist at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said providing a treatment component for addicts was part of the plan when Insite opened four years ago as a provincially funded pilot project in the city's drug-infested Downtown Eastside.
"Some of these people were using puddle water [to mix with heroin]," Mr. Kerr said in an interview outside Insite. Meanwhile, drug users streamed in and out of the clinic that has been reputed to cut HIV and hepatitis C rates because addicts are given clean needles instead of sharing them or picking them up in some back alley.
While Mr. Kerr talked, a determined-looking man wheeling a bicycle walked into Insite and anxiously asked the receptionist: "Is there room, is there a wait?"
With few people waiting to get high, he was quickly ushered into the injection room. There, he got a clean needle, water, a swab and a tourniquet to fasten around his arm so he could find a vein to deposit his drugs while he sat at one of 12 mirrored cubicles in front of a nurse's station.
The tall, 40-something-year-old cyclist was soon done and moved into the "chill" room, where he relaxed for a few minutes before heading out.
Mr. Kerr said when people are ready to get clean, there's a small window of opportunity and no time to wait for a detox bed that may not be available for several days. By then, addicts ready to change their lifestyle have been lost.
"They can be gone for weeks after that, back on a drug run or whatever, and it's very difficult to engage them," he said.
"I've certainly had the experience, when I used to be a front-line worker, where someone's very motivated to get into detox for a day, maybe two days or three days and then they get very discouraged because they can't get it. They get depressed, then they start using again."
Vivianna Zanocco, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said the city currently has 53 detox beds and people typically have to wait between two and three days to access them.
So far, 24 studies in major medical journals have hailed the success of Insite, suggesting the only such facility in North America has helped reduce overdose deaths, infectious diseases and crime in the 10-block area that draws drug addicts.
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