Vancouver Sees Success in Peer-Supervised Injection Sites

By Beth Leipholtz 07/18/18
The chief coroner of British Columbia estimates that without the safe injection sites and without opioid antidotes, the death count would be triple what it is.

In Vancouver, Canada, individuals who wish to use injection drugs have the option of doing so in a safe environment, supervised by their peers.

According to NPR, downtown Vancouver is home to the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), a place that serves as a safe space for those using injection drugs. The location is equipped with various supplies like clean needles and sanitizing pads. On the wall, there is a poster highlighting the safest places on the body to inject. The site also provides treatment materials, if someone requests them.

Hugh Lampkin, a site supervisor and vice president of VANDU, explained that the site’s injection room is an area where an attendant watches over individuals using drugs and administers overdose antidotes if necessary.

The idea behind such sites, which are often peer-run, is harm reduction, Lampkin says. In other words, if people are going to use drugs, Lampkin and his colleagues would rather they do so in the safest manner possible to minimize the chance of overdose.

Lampkin himself has a history of heroin use and discovered VANDU at a point when he was really struggling. VANDU hosted support groups and meetings, which Lampkin joined.

"I was telling a bunch of strangers my life story, and it was something I'd never done before," he told NPR. "After that just about everybody came up and either hugged me or shook my hand."

He says that in his experience, peer-run sites are preferred to sites run by authorities due to having fewer rules, no paperwork, and peer supervision.

"If you put this up against another service provider where you have a PhD or a psychologist, I would put my money on a place like this."

According to Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, these sites and the people that run them are helping authorities when it comes to the opioid crisis.

"These community agencies and groups of peers and associations of drug users, they're the ones who are making the innovations. They're telling us what to do," he said. "They showed us how to create pop-up supervised injection sites. They know the community, they know where to put these things. So they've been able to solve a lot of problems."

Vancouver officials say that no one has died at any of the medical or peer-run sites. Chief coroner of British Columbia, Lisa Lapointe, tells NPR  that without such sites and without opioid antidotes, her office estimates the death count would be triple what it is.

Though injection drug use is illegal in Vancouver, NPR says, the police support the injection sites and do not make arrests. On the other hand, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the U.S. maintains that the sites host illegal activity and anyone involved with operating one could face legal consequences.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.