Safe Injection Site Opening in Vancouver, BC

This week, heavy drinking is reportedly a far bigger threat to young New Zealanders than hard drugs; the U.S. federal government considers legislation to strip state drug war funding from states with voter-approved medical marijuana initiatives; and Canada is set to open a safe injection site in Vancouver, which draws criticism from the White House.

June 23 -- New Zealand Herald reports: Heavy drinking remains a far bigger health threat for young New Zealanders than methamphetamine and other hard drug addictions, health experts say.

The consequences of soaring consumption by teens and young adults represent a hidden time bomb for the individual and for treatment services.

Whereas hard drug addictions quickly show themselves and can be treated soon enough to avoid long-term medical problems, the symptoms of chronic alcohol abuse are more likely to be irreversible. They include liver and heart disease, blood disorders and loss of cognitive function.

"With something like methamphetamine the consequences are so awful for most people that lifetime usage is very short," says Ian MacEwan, senior treatment adviser for the Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac). "People get very sick very quickly.

"Alcohol is a bigger problem in terms of numbers and because it's a chronic relapsing condition which individuals have for a long time."

June 25 -- Oklahoma's Tahlequah Daily Press reports: Although voters in seven states have decided they want medicinal marijuana use to be legal, some federal legislators are not very happy with those constituents.

Legislation currently under review by a U.S. House committee would withhold law enforcement money for states where medicinal marijuana is legal.

Federal law currently prohibits legalization for medicinal use, but voters in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maine, Alaska, and Nevada approved referenda allowing the possession of pot for medicinal purposes. In Hawaii, the state legislature enacted a legalization statute without a vote of the people.

The proposed federal legislation has some people concerned that the federal government may be violating states' and citizens' rights to govern themselves.

But according to Tom Riley, spokesman for White House drug policy director John Walters, marijuana is more dangerous than voters in the states with legalized pot may realize.

"One of the duties of the drug czar is to oppose efforts to legalize drugs," said Riley. "There's a concern in Congress that marijuana is more harmful than most people perceive. They want to make sure this agency keeps a focus on that."

June 27 -- Associated Press reports: Canada will open North America's first legal safe-injection site for drug addicts later this year, a decision that drew swift criticism from White House drug czar John Walters.

The so-called "shooting gallery" will be federally funded, a 12-seat facility where addicts will be given the equipment they need to inject safely under the supervision of nurses, said Viviana Zanocco, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which will run the program.

It will open in September in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, an impoverished neighborhood known for crime and drug use, under funding the federal government announced this week.

"They would shoot up under supervision," Zanocco said Thursday. After injecting, the users will be monitored in a "chill-out" room to check for overdoses, she said.

The site will be exempt from federal drug laws to allow heroin and cocaine users to use it without fear of arrest.

"It makes us the first health authority in Canada to have this exception that hopefully will allow us to establish scientifically whether supervised injection sites can improve health outcomes and reduce harm to drug users," Zanocco said.

Similar safe-injection programs have been set up in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and Germany. While the sites are credited with reducing overdose deaths and the spread of disease, specialists say the effect on addiction rates is unclear.

Walters, the White House Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a telephone interview Thursday the program shows an appalling indifference to addiction.

"Drug abuse is a deadly disease," Walters said. "It's immoral to allow people to suffer and die from a disease we know how to treat."

He also called the concept "a lie," saying "there are no safe injection sites."

Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users said allowing addicts to inject at supervised sites will reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, while protecting them from arrest on the streets.

"It is simply a public health initiative to do what's logical and compassionate and effective," she said.

About 4,000 addicts live in the 15-square-block Downtown Eastside, which has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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