How Vancouver Became a Safe Haven For Heroin Addicts Like Cory Monteith


Last week, the world mourned the loss of famed "Glee" star Cory Monteith. Monteith had struggled with drugs in his past, checking himself into rehab first at the age of 19 and then shortly before passing away. However, his death has also led to a deeper investigation regarding drug culture in Vancouver.

In 1997, Vancouver had the highest level of HIV in the developed world. One of the methods being used to combat that is creating a safe space, complete with medical oversight, for drug users. Vancouver has now become a "safe haven" for drug users, especially since the opening of InSite, a center where addicts can bring their drugs with them and legally use them. InSite claims to "save lives", advertising safety and healthy drug use with medical supervision on sight. The center is divided into 12 booths that are spaces for drug users to inject themselves with clean and sterilized needles. This center has caused a great deal of controversy, but not without reason.

Mark Townsend, an InSite campaigner, stressed to CNN the importance of treating drug addicts with respect, citing that the way we treat addicts in North America is "ridiculous." Interviews with other addicts reveal terrifying stories of "30 to 40 people doing this in the alley way" and overdosing all the time. One addict, Liane, wishes to be viewed as a human being when she says, "Remember us addicts, we're somebody's mothers, we're somebody's sister, we're somebody's daughter – we're not just a number – the next time you pass me on the street and shake your head." 

While this viewpoint makes sense, there are others who strongly disagree with InSite and its philosophy. According to addiction counselor David Berner, InSite is ignoring the very "mechanics of addiction," neglecting the fact that the road to good health is abstinence and prevention. Additionally, many are unhappy with the fact that InSite is being run using $3 million Canadian dollars, all of which are taxpayer dollars. 

InSite has had great political impact in Canada, gaining attention during the local elections in 2002. Additionally, the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has been vocally against programs like InSite. A Supreme Court ruling from September 2011 has ruled otherwise, keeping other large cities like Ontario and Toronto on their feet regarding this issue. In fact, over 50% of Toronto residents are in support of an injection room.

While there are many who are critical of this approach, there are some addicts for whom quitting is highly unrealistic. InSite is the only way to safely continue their lifestyles for these people. Hopefully, going forward, there will be more resources thrown into prevention rather than mostly treatment.