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What is a Safe Injection Site?

Updated on March 31, 2010

Facts on Safe Injection Sites

1. What is a Safe Injection Site? A safe injection site is a legally sanctioned, supervised site where those who suffer from illegal drug addictions can go to inject their own drugs. It follows a “harm-reduction” mentality.

2. Why Were Safe Injection Sites Created? Safe injection sites were created to reduce the spread of AIDS , Hepatitis C, and other blood-bourn diseases through unsanitary injection practices. Safe injection sites also aim to reduce the amount of drug-related overdoses as well as decrease drug-related crime and public exposure to drug use and equipment.

3. Where Do Safe Injection Sites Exist? Safe injection sites were originally created in Europe during the 1980’s. They can be found across the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Australia as well as in Oslo, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark. The first safe injection site in North America, InSite, opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 2003.

4. Are All Safe Injection Sites The Same? No. The safe injection sites in Europe function solely as a private area in which to inject drugs as well as provide sanitary equipment. However, the sites in both Australia and Canada are known as supervised safe injection sites because they offer medical supervision and basic life support equipment. Additionally, these sites offer resources to help users overcome their addictions.

A kit provided at Insite's Safe Injection Site
A kit provided at Insite's Safe Injection Site

5.    Describe InSite, The Only Safe Injection Site in North America. InSite is the first legally sanctioned safe injection site in North America. The site features 12 injection booths where clients can inject pre-obtained illegal drugs. There is also free, sanitary injection equipment including syringes. Although Insite saw over 400 overdoses at the site this past year, there were no deaths because nurses were able to quickly respond to symptoms and had the necessary medical equipment on hand.

Counselors and support workers are also available in a separate room to aid users seeking rehabilitation programs and housing.  The Onsite program also located in the same building offers 12 beds to clients who are willing to enter a detox program. 

InSite Safe Injection Site in Vancouver, British Columbia
InSite Safe Injection Site in Vancouver, British Columbia

6. What Is the Opposition Towards Safe Injection Sites? The main opposition towards safe injection sites is that they condone illicit drug use and eat up government funding. The opposition believes that the government should focus more on punishing users and on preventing initial drug use as well as reducing the supply of available drugs. They believe that the sites are expensive, unnecessary and increase drug-related crime in the sorrounding locations.

7. Do Safe Injection Sites Really Work? There has been over 20 peer-reviewed studies proving that safe injection sites do in fact work in reducing the spread of intravenous diseases, decreasing overdose-related deaths, increasing resource availability for hard-core users and reducing drug-related crime and public exposure to drug paraphernalia. In 2009, InSite alone sent 6,242 referrals to social and health programs focusing on detox and addiction treatment.

Additionally, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Richard Elliot, states that there are cost benefits to having safe-injection sites 
“There is the benefit of saving public funds by actually getting health services to people in need of them in a preventive, expense-saving kind of way rather than high expenses of ambulance responses to overdoses, hospitalization costs associated with those, all of the costs of treating people for untreated infection, whether it is with HIV or [Hepatitis-C] or other kinds of sepsis from abscess sites that get infected”.

FILM: Sam Sullivan - Life in a Wheel

The following film documents Sam Sullivan, the former mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, who was largely responsible for obtaining the government support necessary to open InSite. Sullivan, who was involved in a skiing accident at the age of 19 which left him paralyzed, determined that drug-addiction was a disability. This film documents both his return to the place of his accident as well as shows the InSite facilities and interviews former drug users.


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