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Denver council approves safe injection sites with lessons from Vancouver

Last Updated Dec 23, 2018 at 9:00 am PDT

A injection kit is seen Insite in Vancouver, Tuesday, May 6, 2008. Giving clean drug-injection needles to prisoners to stem the spread of infectious disease would make federal penitentiaries more dangerous places, senior correctional officials say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER – As an overdose crisis began taking shape in Denver, Colorado, one of the places the city’s leaders looked for answers was north of the border.

Councillor Albus Brooks says he hopped on a plane to Vancouver last year before putting together a proposal to open what could become the first legal supervised consumption site in the United States.

His fellow councillors approved the proposal for a pilot project, but the measure still requires state approval.

Brooks says he was struck by the high number of overdose deaths in Vancouver, but also the general consensus on the importance of harm reduction, something he says has been harder to achieve in the U.S.

“The typical American context is that a harm reduction model enables drug users rather than really getting them clean,” Brooks says. “I think, globally there is an understand of reducing harm; that’s not understood in the United States.”

Brooks says council reviewed models in hundreds of other jurisdictions and also visited Barcelona.

But they ended up taking several lessons from Vancouver — including the effectiveness of free on-site drug testing, and the importance of working across sectors and with many stakeholders.

“One thing I’ve found that I could not believe is that everyone was on the same kind of perspective that everyone seemed to say that harm reduction models were effective and they’re an important part of an overall strategy,” he adds.

RELATED: Peer support workers on front lines of the OD crisis need support too: Experts

Vancouver Coastal Health says politicians from many U.S. cities have made their way to Insite, which was the first legal supervised consumption site in North America when it opened in 2003.