Vancouver's safe injection site is attracting more higher-risk drug users than expected, says a study published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Researchers say the finding is surprising because the higher-risk addicts tend to be younger, are apt to share needles and are unlikely to use health-care facilities – all factors that expose drug users to HIV infection and overdose.
Syringe disposal problems can lead to higher bloodborne infection rates among injection drug users.
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It appears they're attracted to the injection site in the city's Downtown Eastside because it offers a refuge from the mean streets, said study author Dr. Evan Wood of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
Regular contact with the site could have important long-term benefits, the epidemiologist added.
"It's a core of high-risk people that are really driving the medical costs associated with HIV," said Evans. "The fact that it's that population that has been attracted to the site is very promising."
Although safe injection sites are becoming more common in Western Europe, there has been little research to evaluate the harm-reduction strategy, the study's authors said.
Doubts have also been raised about whether the sites could attract injection drug users at high risk.
The federal government estimates that each case of HIV/AIDS costs taxpayers about $750,000.
The study also showed that the safe injection site is attracting a surprisingly high number of cocaine users. It had been originally expected to appeal to people who use heroin.
The Vancouver safe injection site opened nearly two years ago, the first facility of its kind in North America. The medically supervised site is designed to reduce overdose deaths, and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
It's estimated there are about 5,000 IV drug users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.