A Brief History of Supervised Consumption Sites

Supervised consumption sites (SCS) in Canada were born out of the HIV and overdose epidemics that took hold of the City of Vancouver in the mid-1990s. Spearheaded by a blend of grass roots activists and public figures, namely the Provincial Chief Coroner of British Columbia, the first sanctioned supervised injection facility (SIF) opened in 2003. There had been unsanctioned sites before this — such as the Back Alley, which was created by a peer-led group of people who inject drugs (PWID) — but they were ultimately dismantled by authorities.

The first SCS was approved and established in the Netherlands during the 1970s in an effort by policymakers and the St. Paul’s Church in Rotterdam to embrace emerging personal lifestyles and address the issues and disorders facing youth. This gradual paradigm shift propelled the opening of additional sites, first in Switzerland in 1986, followed by Germany in 1994. Internationally, there are currently about 120 SCSs operating throughout Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland. 

The first Canadian sanctioned SCS was founded on the City of Vancouver’s Four Pillar Drug Strategy, which was modelled after successful policies in Western Europe. Ultimately, it was deemed that the City of Vancouver was not responsible for bringing health programs to fruition and groups such as the Harm Reduction Action Society and Dr. Peter Centre took it on themselves to either initiate pilot SIFs or discreetly supervise injections.  In an attempt to control the current state of disarray, Health Canada eventually mandated that municipalities obtain exemptions directly from the federal Minister of Health to open a sanctioned SIF.



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