B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

May 02, 2008 08:00 ET

Canada's Government Continues to Mishandle Research: International Scientists

Ignoring evidence-based research puts public health at risk

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - May 2, 2008) - Canada's federal government has breached international scientific standards through their treatment of evidence-based research, says a collective of prominent medical doctors and science researchers from B.C. and around the world.

In the May 2008 issue of the prestigious International Journal of Drug Policy, scientists discuss the "policy horror story" that is the federal government's handling of research around Vancouver's supervised injection site (SIS).

The issue's contributors comment on the Canadian controversy surrounding a research proposal for the SIS that was reviewed and recommended for funding by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Despite the recommendation, funding was ultimately suppressed by the health minister's office as part of a Canada-wide moratorium on SIS trials.

Among the commentaries published, Dr. Alex Wodak, Australia's foremost addiction specialist, states that the Harper government has "ignored science, due process, and public opinion while also risking harm to the country's international standing."

Similarly, health scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Maryland write that "a well-executed piece of policy research on a promising innovation was discontinued for unstated but blatant political reasons."

The International Journal of Drug Policy is the second world-renowned scientific publication to call out the Harper government.

In February, British journal Nature blasted the Harper government for their "manifest disregard for science." The editorial highlighted the government's decision to close Canada's Office of the National Science Advisor. The office offered advice on global science and technology issues as well as providing guidance as to how government can better fund and support Canadian science.

"At the end of the day, we're talking about the health of Canadians," says Dr. Evan Wood, researcher with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and co-principal investigator of the evaluation of Insite. "The health minister appears married to an ideology rather than being concerned about the health of this already marginalized population."

Canadians should be very concerned that their government is excluding evidence-based research from their health policy decision-making process, says Dr. Graydon Meneilly, head of the department of medicine at the University of British Columbia's (UBC) faculty of medicine.

"Insite is only a small pilot project and it is fully utilized. If we really want to understand the health benefits of safe injection facilities then the government should expand the program across B.C. and the country so that disenfranchised addicts can access treatment options," he continued.

In a letter made public today, Meneilly and 12 prominent leaders of medical research at UBC urge the prime minister to consider the available evidence to properly address addiction.

About the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

Founded in 1992 by St. Paul's Hospital and the provincial Ministry of Health, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is a key provincial resource seeking to improve the health of people with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. St. Paul's Hospital is one of seven care facilities operated by Providence Health Care, Canada's largest faith-based health care organization.

About Insite

Insite is the first government-sanctioned facility of its kind in North America. The facility was opened by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) in partnership with the Portland Hotel Society. The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS was contracted to conduct an arms-length evaluation of the impact of Insite on public order and public health. The Centre project, formally known as the Scientific Evaluation of Supervised Injecting (SEOSI), will evaluate changes in HIV risk behaviour, overdose rates, addiction treatment and public injecting over the duration of the pilot project.

Backgrounder

Past Insite-related studies have revealed:

- Insite plays a significant role in managing overdoses on-site, including saving lives and reducing hospital visits and ambulatory services. (International Journal of Drug Policy)

- Insite is leading to increased uptake into detoxification programs and addiction treatment. Regular use of the facility and any contact with the facility's addictions counsellor, were both strongly tied to quicker initiation into detoxification. (New England Journal of Medicine)

- Insite has not led to an increase in drug-related crime. (Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy)

- Insite has reduced the number of people injecting in public and the amount of injection-related litter in the Downtown Eastside, both notable improvements for people who live and work in the neighbourhood. (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

- Insite is attracting the highest-risk users - those more likely to be vulnerable to HIV infection and overdose, and who were contributing to problems of public drug use and unsafe syringe disposal. (American Journal of Preventive Medicine)

- Insite has reduced overall rates of needle sharing in the community, and among those who used the supervised injection site for some, most or all of their injections, 70% were less likely to report syringe sharing. (The Lancet)

- Nearly one-third of Insite users received information relating to safer injecting practices. Those who received help injecting from fellow injection drug users on the streets were more than twice as likely to have received safer injecting education at Insite. (International Journal of Drug Policy)

- Insite is not increasing rates of relapse among former drug users, nor is it a negative influence on those seeking to stop drug use. (British Medical Journal)

- Three-quarters of Insite users report the facility has positively changed their injecting behaviour, says an extensive survey published by an international scientific journal. (Addictive Behaviors)

The article entitled "The Canadian government's treatment of scientific process and evidence: Inside the evaluation of North America's first supervised injecting facility" is available at the following web link: http://media3.marketwire.com/docs/bcca0502app1.pdf.

The commentary entitled "Adrift from the moorings of good public policy: Ignoring evidence and human rights" is available at the following web link: http://media3.marketwire.com/docs/bcca0502app2.pdf.

The commentary entitled "The implicit rules of evidence-based drug policy: A U.S. perspective" is available at the following web link: http://media3.marketwire.com/docs/bcca0502app3.pdf.

The commentary entitled "Going soft on evidence and due process: Canada adopts US style harm maximization" is available at the following web link: http://media3.marketwire.com/docs/bcca0502app4.pdf.

A letter to the Office of the Prime Minister entitled "RE: Insite - Vancouver's Supervised Injection Facility" is available at the following web link: http://media3.marketwire.com/docs/bcca0502app5.pdf.

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