Drug users have been injecting themselves in a supervised setting at the Dr. Peter Centre since 2002, but the service only existed because the police and province agreed to turn a blind eye to activity considered illegal under federal drug laws.
Now, after being granted an exemption to section 56.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, everything that goes on in the supervised injection room at the Dr. Peter Centre can be considered legal.
"This exemption means the Dr. Peter Centre staff are exempted while in the building from the offence of simple possession of an illicit substance because a client is in possession for the purpose of using our supervised injection service," said executive director Maxine Davis. "And clients are exempted on the site while in possession."
15,000 injections, no overdose deaths
Davis says since the Dr. Peter supervised injection space opened, over 15,000 injections have taken place with no overdose deaths.
The Dr. Peter Centre is now the second sanctioned supervised injection site in Vancouver and in Canada, alongside Insite on Hastings Street.
Davis believes getting approval for the Dr. Peter Centre represents a significant step forward in Canadian health care.
"With the issue of this exemption the government of Canada is acknowledging supervised injection service helps reduce the harms of drug use for people who are actively addicted to injectable drugs," she said. "It's the first exemption issued for a supervised injection service which is integrated into an already existing health care centre with a broader range of health care services."
The Dr. Peter Centre offers a wide range of health care services for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Overdoses up three-fold
Chris Buchner of Vancouver Coastal Health says access to supervised injection services is especially critical because of a three-fold increase in the number of overdoses over the last five years.
"There were 492 overdose visits to emergency rooms in 2010," he said. "In 2015 there were 1,486."
The application to Health Canada was jointly submitted by Vancouver Coastal Health and the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation.