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The Urban Health Research Initiative

The Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI) was established in 2007 as a program of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, Canada. Led by principal investigators Thomas Kerr, PhD, and Evan Wood, MD, PhD, UHRI is based on a network of studies that have been developed to help identify and understand the many factors that affect the health of urban populations, with a focus on substance use, infectious diseases, the urban environment and homelessness. More...

 What's New 

BC Addiction Conference & Research Day 2016

On Wednesday, May 25th, the Urban Health Research Initiative and Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse are pleased to host the third annual (free) BC Addiction Conference & Research Day between 9:00am and 5:20pm at St. Paul's Hospital. For more details, please click here.

Access to safer smoking rooms reduces crack pipe sharing among people who use drugs

This study, conducted in collaboration with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users  and accepted for publication by The International Journal of Drug Policy, reveals that people who had access to safer smoking rooms and crack smoking supplies were less likely to share crack pipes, while smoking crack in unregulated settings such as alleyways increased their exposure to drug scene violence and police.

Summary of research article           Abstract

Overdose risk increases on and immediately after distribution of income assistance cheques

Study findings released recently in The International Journal of Drug Policy reveal the risk of drug overdose among injection drug users increased dramatically on and immediately following the days income assistance cheques are distributed in BC, which is usually the last Wednesday of each month. A new research trial led by UHRI investigators aims to evaluate the impacts of alternative distribution options for social assistance in order to minimize health risks. More...

Media Release           Summary of research article           Summary of new research trial 

What's New in Addiction Medicine?

UHRI hosts a free monthly lunch-time lecture series, featuring local and international experts, clinicians and researchers who deliver the latest research and information on novel, evidence-based addiction medicine topics. To view the schedule and to RSVP for the next event, click here.

War on drugs failing to limit drug use in Vancouver: New report finds declines in drug use associated with harm reduction services, not law enforcement efforts

UHRI's latest comprehensive report on the drug situation in Vancouver shows health-focused policies have been more effective than federal law enforcement measures at reducing illicit drug use and improving public health and safety. More...

Media Release          Report           Backgrounder           Summary

Homelessness, childhood sexual abuse key factors in promoting youth injection drug use

Homelessness and a history of childhood sexual abuse place Vancouver street-involved youth at great risk of intravenous injection drug use and potential transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, according to two new studies from researchers at the Urban Health Research Initiative of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the University of British Columbia.

The landmark studies funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research were aimed at identifying why some high-risk youth initiate injection drug use while others do not.

Results published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Adolescent Health found that youth who were homeless were almost twice as likely to inject drugs as youth who were not homeless. In a separate study published in the peer-reviewed journal Preventive Medicine, researchers found those reporting childhood sexual abuse were more than 2.5 times as likely to start injecting drugs as those who had no history of such abuse.

  • Feng C, DeBeck K, Kerr T, Mathias S, Montaner J, Wood E. Homelessness independently predicts injection drug use initiation among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting. Journal of Adolescent Health, 2013; 52(4): 499-501. PubMed Summary
  • Hadland SE, Werb D, Kerr T, Fu E, Wang H, Montaner JS, Wood E. Childhood sexual abuse and risk for initiating injection drug use: A prospective cohort study. Preventive Medicine, 2012; 55(5): 500-504. PubMed Summary

Dr. Kerr discusses the work of the Urban Health Research Initiative

In an interview for International Innovation, UHRI co-director Dr. Thomas Kerr explains how he has been working to address the urban health needs in Vancouver. International Innovation is the leading global dissemination resource for the wider scientific, technology and research communities. Click here to read the full text of the interview.

Vancouver Rat Project

UHRI is pleased to support the work of the Vancouver Rat Project, led by veterinarian Dr. Chelsea Himsworth. The goal of this project is to investigate and reduce the risk to human health posed by the rat population in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Click here to learn more about this important and informative study or here for their latest newsletter.

Critique of Lancet study of Vancouver’s supervised injection site and overdose: Authors’ response

Recently, the UHRI research team published a study in the medical journal The Lancet (Marshall et al., Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America’s first medically supervised safer injecting facility: A retrospective population-based study. Lancet, 2011; 377: 1429-37) that demonstrated a 35% reduction in overdose in proximity to Vancouver’s supervised injection site following the program's opening. This study, which underwent extensive scientific peer review, has been criticized in a report commissioned by REAL Women of Canada and the Drug Prevention Network of Canada. The authors of the Lancet study have responded to the criticism (Marshall et al., Overdose deaths and Vancouver’s supervised injection facility—Authors’ reply. Lancet, 2012; 379: 118-19).

Summary of authors' reply.

Supreme Court rules Insite can stay open

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the doors to Vancouver’s supervised injecting facility, Insite, will remain open. Read more here.

Insite reduces overdose deaths

A recent study by UHRI researchers published in The Lancet shows a dramatic decline in drug overdose deaths in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside following the opening of Insite, North America’s first medically supervised injecting facility.

The study shows that in the immediate vicinity of Insite, overdose deaths decreased by 35% after Insite opened in September 2003.

“This study clearly demonstrates that supervised injection facilities such as Insite are saving lives,” said Dr. Julio Montaner. “It’s time for the federal government to recognize the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of supervised injection sites, halt its legal manoeuvring to close Insite, and allow facilities such as Insite to open in other Canadian cities.”

Media release         Summary          Abstract

Fact sheet on cannabis prohibition

The Urban Health Research Initiative has contributed to the extensive evidence indicating that drug prohibition, especially cannabis prohibition, is a major contributing factor to the growth of organized crime and related violence in British Columbia. To help inform policy makers, we have produced a fact sheet that outlines the key points and evidence on why cannabis prohibition has not reduced cannabis use or availability among young people and how it serves to support the persistent unregulated market that exists only to the benefit of organized crime, fuelling gang-related violence in our province. We join with other leading health and research organizations in recommending a new, evidence-based approach to cannabis policy.

Download the fact sheet.

UHRI supports the Vienna Declaration

Through the Vienna Declaration, UHRI supports improving community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies.
The Vienna Declaration is the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) held in Vienna, Austria, 18–23 July 2010. The Declaration was drafted by a team of international experts, including UHRI directors, and initiated by the International AIDS Society, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. The Declaration calls for an impact assessment of current drug policies and for ineffective policies to be replaced with evidence-based approaches that can meaningfully improve community health and safety.

To learn more about this important initiative and where to sign, visit: www.viennadeclaration.com

We take pride in publishing the results of our research in respected peer-reviewed journals. Our most recent publications are listed here. New papers appear regularly, so check back often.