Times of India
09 February 2011
By Donald G McNeil Jr
Vancouver, BC Canada
At 12 tables, in front of 12 mirrors, a dozen people are fussing intently in raptures of self–absorption, like chorus line members applying makeup in a dressing room. But these people are drug addicts, injecting themselves with whatever they just bought on the street – under the eyes of a nurse here at Insite, the only "safe injection site" in North America.
"You can tell she just shot cocaine," Thomas Kerr, an AIDS expert who does studies at the center, said of one young woman who keeps readjusting her tight tube top. "The way she’s fidgeting, moving her hands over her face – she’s tweaking."
Insite, situated on the worst block of an area once home to the fastest–growing AIDS epidemic in North America, is one reason Vancouver is succeeding in lowering new AIDS infection rates while many other cities are only getting worse.
By offering clean needles and aggressively testing and treating those who may be infected with HIV, Vancouver is offering proof that an idea that was once controversial actually works: Widespread treatment, while expensive, protects not just individuals but the whole community.
At Insite, clients are left alone, unless they ask for help. Bad vision is common, and many users have veins clogged with scar tissue. The nurses can help find a vein, "but they cannot push the plunger," a doctor said. Although the Canadian Medical Association and the public health officers of Canada’s 17 largest cities have endorsed supervised sites, no more have opened because the national government refuses to grant more exemptions to the federal narcotics laws.
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