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Int J Drug Policy. 2008 Feb;19(1):11-6. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2007.11.006.

Harm reduction headway and continuing resistance: insights from safe injection in the city of Vancouver.

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Department of Sociology & Anthropology, University of Guelph, Canada. andy


North America's first official safe injection facility has begun to generate substantial evidence attesting to the harm reduction benefits of supervised injection. Reductions in morbidity, mortality, and crime rates have strengthened the resolve of local advocates and even influenced the views of some original detractors. Many status quo defenders are unwavering, however, in their condemnation of initiatives like InSite. The term 'drug den' has been used in right-wing media and some opponents of the programme say the evidence is biased. In their view, harm reduction advocates are really 'legalisers' in the guise of scientists and public health professionals. Providing services for people with drug problems sends the message that some use of drugs is normal, rather than affirming that drug use is the problem. Abstinence, prevention, and enforcement are the only acceptable and morally legitimate solutions. Harm reduction's muted stance on morals, rights and values prevents proponents from engaging criticisms of this nature in terms other than the evidence or science. The case of InSite in Vancouver, however, the authors argue, demonstrates the value of asserting human rights claims that do not rest on evidence per se. Scientific arguments are insufficient in themselves to move beyond the status quo on drugs. Rights-based moral warrants in support of harm reduction require far more extensive and explicit cultivation if they are to be discursively established and maintained.

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