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Idea: Fight HIV by Letting Addicts Get High Idea: Fight HIV by Letting Addicts Get High

Idea: Fight HIV by Letting Addicts Get High

by Cord Jefferson
February 10, 2011

The New York Times today reports on a story certain to raise a lot of controversy: A nonprofit clinic in Vancouver is fighting the spread of HIV by letting drug addicts get high on the premises.

Called Insite, the organization, which has an exemption from Canada's narcotics laws, draws heroin and cocaine addicts in by offering them a safe, clean place to shoot up. After they get high, a staff of medical professionals then treats their wounds, tests them for HIV/AIDS, and prescribes them drugs, including antiretrovirals for HIV infections. The doctors and nurses on hand have also prevented literally hundreds of addict overdose deaths (though more than 1,000 overdoses have happened at Insite, there have been zero deaths thanks to the trained staff's presence).

It may sound gruesome, but Insite is actually working really well:

According to one of the center’s studies, financed by the United States National Institutes of Health, from 1996 to 2009 the number of British Columbians taking the  [HIV] medication increased more than sixfold — to 5,413, an estimated 80 percent of those with H.I.V. The number of annual new infections dropped by 52 percent. This happened even as testing increased and syphilis rates kept rising, indicating that people were not switching in droves to condoms or abstinence.

In fact, the "test and treat" method Insite uses is so effective that the United Nations' anti-AIDS initiative has made it its "official goal" on its quest to eradicate the global AIDS epidemic. Though it's also acknowledged that that "official goal" is wholly unattainable, with AIDS budgets nowhere near large enough to pay for treatment for everyone suffering with the illness.

Moral concerns are also an issue: Insite was started when a Liberal Party government was in power. With the Conservatives back on top, the government has already sued to shut the clinic down.

photo (cc) via Flickr user jrschau

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