In 2003, the regional health authority in Vancouver, Canada successfully applied to the federal government for a legal operating exemption to pilot North America’s first medically supervised injection facility (SIF) – Insite. The exemption was granted on the condition the program undergo rigorous scientific evaluation. Given the controversial nature of SIFs, as will be described in this report, the Insite evaluation was designed to stand up to the highest level of scientific scrutiny.
The first several years of evaluation have yielded an array of scientific outputs, including more than 30 peer-reviewed studies describing the program’s impacts. These publications indicate that Insite provides a range of benefits to its clients and the greater community, including a reduction in public injecting, lower levels of HIV risk behaviours (e.g., syringe sharing), and an increase in uptake of addiction treatment among the facility’s clients. Furthermore, studies seeking to identify potential harms of the facility found no evidence of negative impacts. Studies were independently peer-reviewed and published in top scientific periodicals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and the British Medical Journal.
It is recognized that the lack of understanding among key stakeholders regarding the results of Insite’s evaluation reflect, in part, a failure to appropriately translate and share findings related to the initiative. Specifically, it has become increasingly clear in scientific circles that academic publications are not sufficiently accessible to politicians and the general public.
The following report addresses this concern by providing a lay person’s description of the scientific evaluation of Insite, as well as summaries of the research findings related to its impact. It is hoped that by making this information more accessible to the general public, the federal government, and the media, this report will offer clarity to all Canadians on the issue of supervised injecting facilities such as Insite.