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What's happened in Vancouver since the city approved safe injection sites in 2003

The only other city in North America that has safe injection sites is Vancouver, Canada, which has had at least one site since 2003. A lot of the Denver ordinance is based on what Vancouver has dealt with in the 15 years since allowing supervised injection sites.

With the proposal for safe injection sites in Denver sitting on the Capitol's doorstep, 9NEWS decided to take a look at other areas that have implemented similar ordinances. The largest city to create these sites is Vancouver, Canada, which first allowed for them in 2003.

A safe injection site would allow for drug users to use in a "safe" place, with staff on hand ready to assist with any overdoses. Addiction services will be provided to those that want it, according to the ordinance's champion City Council member Albus Brooks. He told 9NEWS this ordinance would take people using out of the shadows and put them in the light.

RELATED | Denver's plan for 'safe injection sites' still needs change in state law

The proposal hasn't been put into practice yet, as state law does not legally allow for such sites. A bill is being proposed for the upcoming legislative senate in January that would pave the way for the city to implement the ordinance. No other cities in the United States have such a place, but many are considering it. Vancouver implemented such sites 15 years ago.

Parts of the Denver ordinance are shaped around what sponsors and supporters learned from the Vancouver version. Andy Watson, a spokesman for the B.C. Coroner’s Service in Canada, told 9NEWS their program has already saved lives.

"You think about the seat belt culture, the AIDS epidemic any of the other radical changes in society," Watson said. "This is going to be one for this generation."

Vancouver Coastal Health is the organization that oversees the city's injection sites since 2003 when the first safe injection site opened. A second one was opened in 2017, according to the organization's website. Last year, Vancouver Coastal Health reported 175,464 visits by 7,301 people with 2,151 overdose interventions.

"Since [the safe injection sites] opened,” Watson continued, "not a single death has been reported at either of types of sites province-wide."

Carrie Stefanson with Vancouver Coastal Health told 9NEWS their "harm reduction initiatives," like providing clean needles, have helped reduce the spread of disease. "The number of cases of HIV diagnosed among people who inject drugs has declined dramatically in [British Columbia] by 86 percent since 2005," she said via email.

Watson with the B.C. Coroner's Service said the supervised sites are not a perfect solution, saying some people are still hesitant to come in - worried about safety or being identified and then stigmatized for drug use.

"There are people, white-collar professions - doctors, pro athletes, school teachers - using these substances [and] people down on their luck," Watson explained.

Across British Columbia, he continued, the number of people dying from overdoses since 2016 has risen. In 2016, there were under 1,000 deaths for the year. In 2017, that number rose to 1,400 deaths. For 2018, British Columbia is on track to see more than 1,500 deaths from illegal drug overdoses in 2018, Watson said.

"The number one problem is fentanyl," Watson said. Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller many times more powerful than heroin and usually appears on the street mixed in with heroin.

According to Watson, the potent synthetic opioid is now linked to four of out every five overdose deaths in British Columbia.

To see how Denver envisions their injection sites working, head to this link.

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