BCNU Renews Calls for Harm Reduction Strategies as Insite Marks 20-year Anniversary

September 22, 2023
The union and members have been leaders in progressive drug policy

It’s been 20 years since North America’s first safe injection site opened its doors on Sept. 14, 2003.

The BC Nurses’ Union is recognizing the tireless efforts of nurses, community members, activists and health-care workers over the years to establish Insite as a life-saving facility, credited with dramatically curbing needle-sharing, reducing blood-borne infections, and saving thousands of lives.

According to data published by Vancouver Coastal Health, , since 2004, there have been more than 4.6 million visits to inject illicit drugs under supervision by nurses at Insite, and  11,856 overdoses reversed without any deaths. These statistics further establish Insite as a primary health-care service model that promotes harm reduction – a model that has since been duplicated in communities around the world.

BCNU has a history of supporting harm reduction strategies. In 2008, the site faced potential closure when the federal Conservative government opposed supervised drug use and dropped harm reduction from the national anti-drug strategy. BCNU provided legal support that, combined with advocacy efforts by The Portland Hotel Society and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, led to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2011 to uphold Insite’s right to continue operating.

The union also helped support the production of the 2002 award-winning documentary, Fix: The Story of an Addicted City, directed by Nettie Wild, which tells the story of Downtown Eastside drug users and activists in their campaign to open the facility.  In 2012, BCNU released its own documentary, profiling efforts of union activists and their work in support of InSite. Watch the documentary on BCNU’s YouTube channel.

As Insite marks this significant anniversary, BCNU is renewing calls for expanded harm reduction strategies to address the ongoing toxic drug crisis. This includes better access to safe supply, province-wide investments in mental health, treatment and recovery services and ending the criminalization of people who use drugs.

To learn more about the advocacy of nurses working through the toxic drug crisis, check out Saving Lives, the feature article of a past issue of BCNU’s Update magazine.

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