Intravenous drug injection sites such as Vancouver’s Insite are cost-effective, study shows

A new Canadian study about supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users concludes that they are cost-effective to the health care system — an argument that is likely to be advanced as several Canadian cities takes steps to open facilities like Vancouver’s long-running Insite.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto carried out an analysis that compared the projected costs of maintaining supervised injection sites over a period of 20 years with the potential savings to the health system in averted HIV and hepatitis C infections. The researchers’ estimates were conservative, as they did not include other infections associated with intravenous drug use and the costs involved in treating and hospitalizing patients suffering from overdoses.

Still, despite their conservative approach, the researchers found that one facility in Toronto would incur $33.1 million in direct operating expenses over 20 years, but save $42.7 million in health care costs because of an anticipated reduction in HIV and hepatitis C infections. This represented a net savings of $9.6 million.

The researchers predicted that a single site Toronto would spare 164 people from contracting HIV (because they wouldn’t be using dirty needles) and prevent 459 hepatitis C infections.

An earlier three year study reported Vancouver Coastal Health Authority’s Insite program impact on:

  1. Overdoses
  2. Health
  3. Appropriate use of health and social services
  4. Costs for health, social, legal and incarceration associated with injection drug use.

Key findings

The Centre’s research has been published in peer-reviewed journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and The Lancet.

Significant research includes:

More research information on Insite and its supervised injection site may be found at Vancouver Coastal Health, or this article in McLean’s Magazine.