Vancouver’s Downtown EastSide (DTES) area has long been a place of death, largely from AIDS and drug overdoses, but in recent years, the Insite facility (which allows for a safe, controlled environment for drug use has been making a difference. One of the differences is that people are living longer.
This should be no surprise. The studies in Switzerland of programs where the government supplied heroin to addicts found a huge increase in lifespan.
At the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1996, life expectancy in the DTES was more than nine years lower than the B.C. average.
By 2006, DTES life expectancy rose to just 5.3 years below the provincial average.
Now, unpublished Vancouver Coastal Health research from 2011 shows DTES life expectancy has jumped to 79.5 years, about two years below the average.
It’s rare to see such a shift in a population’s life expectancy, said medical health officer Dr. John Carsley.
He and his colleagues are trying to judge how much of the change can be attributed to gentrification and how much is due to improved health treatment, nutrition, housing and education.
“I think we all agree that it is some healthier people moving to the DTES, and there has been a substantial decrease in overdose deaths and HIV deaths,” Carsley said Thursday.
Carsley said he believes the new data supports arguments that harm-reduction services offered in Vancouver’s controversial supervised injection site – which was allowed to stay open with a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that said it has “been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact” – will be extended to other locations.
The more you bring drug use out of the shadows, with education, clean needles, controlled doses, increased safety, and access to other services, the more you save lives.
Prohibition, on the other hand, merely drives people into the shadows, and is a leading cause of drug death.