Vancouver's supervised injection center is no model for the United States to follow

Writing in the New York Times, Patricia Daly, the vice president for public health and the chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health, argues that the United States should follow her city's lead and provide supervised injection centers for drug users.

In 2003, Vancouver opened North America's first supervised injection center for heroin and other injection drugs.  The data coming out of Vancouver don't support the claims made by Daly that "[t]his model has been a demonstrable success."

In fact, there are reasons why – as Daly admits – "no other city in Canada or the United States has followed Vancouver's lead."  And the answers reside in Vancouver's crime statistics and drug use data.

Daly states that "in Vancouver; illicit drug use here has declined since the center opened" and cites a 2013 study by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

The study does show that the use of some illicit drugs has declined since the center opened, but this has essentially been offset by increasing use of other illicit drugs over the same period.  In other words, drug use patterns have simply shifted with no significant net decline.

For example, between 2002 (the year before the center opened) and 2011 (the latest year of available data), the percentage of people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver who reported daily crack smoking declined from about 32.5% to 27%.  Similarly, the percentage reporting daily heroin injection declined from 23% to just under 15% over this time frame.  Daily cocaine injection also declined from 18% to 7%.

On the other hand, those reporting crystal methamphetamine smoking increased from a little over 2% up to 5%.  The percentage reporting crystal methamphetamine injection increased from 4% to almost 14%, and those reporting prescription opioid injection increased from 11% to 17%.

Hardly an overall success story for illicit drug use decline.

In 2002, Vancouver's total crime rate was 40% above the Canadian average.  Today, it is 43% higher.

The city's rate of all Criminal Code violations (excluding traffic) was 44% higher than the national average in 2002; now it is 47% higher.

Property crime was an astonishing 64% above the national average in 2002.  That differential has now increased to more than 69%.

It is these latter statistics that average citizens are most interested in.  What Vancouver needs is a massive crime reduction strategy, and providing supervised injection centers for drug users is clearly not part of that solution.  If anything, it may be making the problem worse by keeping criminals on the streets.

Writing in the New York Times, Patricia Daly, the vice president for public health and the chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health, argues that the United States should follow her city's lead and provide supervised injection centers for drug users.

In 2003, Vancouver opened North America's first supervised injection center for heroin and other injection drugs.  The data coming out of Vancouver don't support the claims made by Daly that "[t]his model has been a demonstrable success."

In fact, there are reasons why – as Daly admits – "no other city in Canada or the United States has followed Vancouver's lead."  And the answers reside in Vancouver's crime statistics and drug use data.

Daly states that "in Vancouver; illicit drug use here has declined since the center opened" and cites a 2013 study by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

The study does show that the use of some illicit drugs has declined since the center opened, but this has essentially been offset by increasing use of other illicit drugs over the same period.  In other words, drug use patterns have simply shifted with no significant net decline.

For example, between 2002 (the year before the center opened) and 2011 (the latest year of available data), the percentage of people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver who reported daily crack smoking declined from about 32.5% to 27%.  Similarly, the percentage reporting daily heroin injection declined from 23% to just under 15% over this time frame.  Daily cocaine injection also declined from 18% to 7%.

On the other hand, those reporting crystal methamphetamine smoking increased from a little over 2% up to 5%.  The percentage reporting crystal methamphetamine injection increased from 4% to almost 14%, and those reporting prescription opioid injection increased from 11% to 17%.

Hardly an overall success story for illicit drug use decline.

In 2002, Vancouver's total crime rate was 40% above the Canadian average.  Today, it is 43% higher.

The city's rate of all Criminal Code violations (excluding traffic) was 44% higher than the national average in 2002; now it is 47% higher.

Property crime was an astonishing 64% above the national average in 2002.  That differential has now increased to more than 69%.

It is these latter statistics that average citizens are most interested in.  What Vancouver needs is a massive crime reduction strategy, and providing supervised injection centers for drug users is clearly not part of that solution.  If anything, it may be making the problem worse by keeping criminals on the streets.