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British Columbia Vancouver police urge drug addicts to use Insite following deaths

Nurse Arvita Cotter, left, prepares for a shift at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday April 18, 2011. A study published in the Lancet medical journal has found the Insite clinic, which is the only one of its kind in North America, has helped reduce the number of fatal overdoses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside by 35 per cent.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Vancouver police are warning local drug addicts to use the supervised injection facility Insite after two people died after injecting heroin without anyone to assist them.

The warning, issued in an advisory on Monday, caught operators of Insite off-guard. They said the police department had not been in touch with them to further explain the advisory.

"We've just been surprised by this," said Anna Marie D'Angelo of Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates the facility in the Downtown Eastside with Vancouver's PHS Community Services Society.

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Police have issued similar calls for drug users to go to Insite in the past, but such warnings are relatively rare.

Mark Townsend of the PHS Society said he was pleased by the advisory. "It shows [the police] care," he said. "I am excited they are doing it."

The police department did not respond to calls seeking more information on its action. In an e-mail, Sergeant Randy Fincham said the force was recommending Insite so that medical aid was available in the event of an overdose.

"Both victims were alone and did not have anyone to render assistance," he wrote.

"We do not know for sure that it is bad heroin. It is only suspected at this point. At any rate, the ingestion of illicit drugs, and intravenous use of heroin is dangerous.

Injecting drugs without close supervision compounds the problem. Insite has been established to reduce that risk."

In its advisory, the VPD says it has been in touch with various agencies including coastal health, other police agencies and the B.C. Ambulance Service.

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Ms. D'Angelo said Insite would be prepared for any increase in need. "Insite is ready always," she said.

Insite offers users a space to inject drugs using clean equipment and under medical supervision, but does not provide drugs, Since it opened in 2003, the city has had 1.9-million visits and no overdose deaths.

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