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Vancouver Has Pioneered a People-First Approach to Drug Issues

Liz Evans

In North America, there is exactly one place where it is legal for the public to use illicit drugs: Insite, a supervised injection facility in Vancouver, Canada.

The space is a place where people can self-inject their own drugs in a safe, supervised environment using clean equipment. There is no threat of being arrested, and the people who work there are trained to respond in case of an overdose. Staff also help people access primary care, detox services, addiction treatment, housing, employment, and legal services. As the first supervised injection facility on the continent, it embodies the highest ideals of harm reduction.

Insite joins the nearly one hundred injection sites around the world that treat drug dependence as an issue of public health rather than criminal justice. Liz Evans, founder and former director of PHS Community Services Society, has seen firsthand the lives saved by this kind of pragmatic approach. It’s a people-first solution that she hopes will be featured this April at the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs, an event that could help turn the tide against punitive drug policies.

By accepting drug use as a global reality rather than something to be wished away, facilities like Insite are serving as a model for what harm reduction can achieve.

Liz Evans is an Open Society Fellow. At Open Society is a video series highlighting the people and ideas that are inspiring our work—and changing the world.

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