US attacks Canadian safe drug scheme

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The Independent US

The Bush administration has criticised as "immoral" a plan in Canada to open North America's first legal safe-injection zone for drug addicts.

The "shooting gallery" is due to open later this year in Vancouver, where up to 12 addicts at a time will be given the equipment to inject safely, under the supervision of nurses. The scheme - to open in the city's impoverished Eastside - is federally funded by about C$1.2m (£500,000) a year.

Viviana Zanocco, of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said the gallery would be exempt from federal drug laws, allowing heroin and cocaine users to visit without fear of arrest. "They would shoot up under supervision," she said. "It makes us the first health authority in Canada to have this exception, that hopefully will allow us to establish scientifically whether supervised injection sites can improve health outcomes and reduce harm to drug users."

Similar safe-injection programmes have been set up across Europe and in Australia, and have reduced deaths from accidental overdoses.

But John Walters, the White House "drugs czar", has criticised the plan, claiming it will lead to more deaths. "Drug abuse is a deadly disease. It's immoral to allow people to suffer and die from a disease we know how to treat. There are no safe injection sites."

Canada already angered the US by planning to decriminalise possession of small amounts of marijuana. Asa Hutchinson, an undersecretary in the Department of Homeland Security, said this week that it was tightening border controls. "We're concerned about the increased drug activity," he said. "[The US] is adjusting as necessary our border inspections."

Ann Livingston, of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, said letting addicts inject at such sites would reduce the spread of HIV/Aids and hepatitis. "It is simply a public health initiative to do what's logical and compassionate and effective," she said. About 4,000 addicts live in the downtown area where the gallery is to be sited. It has one of the world's highest HIV infection rates.