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Bill to govern safe-injection sites "disregards" medical evidence: CMA

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has reiterated its support for supervised injection sites and, with other organizations, is calling for the federal government to withdraw Bill C-2, legislation that will govern the establishment of sites like Insite in Vancouver.

“The CMA is deeply concerned that the approach in this proposed legislation disregards the evidence basis of supervised injection sites,” said CMA Vice-President of Medical Professionalism Dr. Jeff Blackmer in an appearance before the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee May 14. Senate hearings on Bill C-2 began in April, after the bill was passed by the House of Commons.

The legislation was introduced by the federal government in October 2013, in the wake of the unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2011 that the Insite clinic could remain open in the face of federal government challenges to its legality.

The bill outlines 27 requirements a health-service provider must meet when applying to open a new injection site. Any potential facility – including Insite – will have to receive an exemption to operate, or staff and clients could be punished under federal drug laws.

“This law is a thinly veiled attempt to end supervised injection services. Period,” was a comment co-authored by three medical officers of health in a letter to the Globe and Mail newspaper in March.

“Based on our clinical experience of more than ten years and the results of numerous peer reviewed studies on InSite published in prestigious medical journals, we can say with absolute confidence that virtually all these requirements are unnecessary and excessively onerous.”

Blackmer expressed similar views in the CMA submission to the Senate standing committee, reflecting long-standing support by the association for supervised injection sites as an effective way to manage drug abuse.

“The Canadian Medical Association is here today … to strongly support some of our most vulnerable patients and in support of harm reduction tools as a necessary component of a comprehensive national drug strategy,” he said.

Blackmer said the proposed legislation disregards the evidence-based approach of supervised injection sites and would create unnecessary obstacles to this harm reduction program. The CMA also stated that the legislation “violates the spirit and intent” of the Supreme Court decision.

The CMA said the 27 requirements would require extensive resources and funding for an organization attempting to comply.

The CMA recommended that Bill C-2 be replaced by legislation that recognizes the “unequivocal evidence” of the benefits of supervised injection sites.

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