Pubdate: Tue, 17 Nov 2009
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts, Times Colonist
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Lucas, Philippe)


Princess Street Off the Hook but VIHA Isn't Giving Up; Infection 
Rates Have Declined Since the Old One Closed

A proposal for a permanent needle exchange on Princess Street near 
downtown Victoria have been shelved, the Vancouver Island Health 
Authority announced yesterday.

For now, instead of a fixed site for passing out clean needles to 
drug addicts and users, public health officials will expand 
distribution through existing services, like public-health or 
mental-health units.

The final number and locations will be determined in coming weeks. 
Consultations also will begin to see whether non-profit groups, even 
pharmacies, may be willing to help.

The announcement came as good news for people on Princess Street, who 
were alarmed at the notion of a needle exchange as a neighbour.

"They [addicts] have higher priorities -- and it's not leading the 
good life," said Chris Cunningham, owner of Hiddendistance Kung Fu 
Academy, 711B Princess St., where he offers lessons to children as 
young as five.

Cunningham said he appreciates the need for offering clean needles. 
But he would like to see more work done on what a needle exchange 
would offer before one lands in any neighbourhood.

The search for a fixed site to offer clean needles to help prevent 
the spread of infectious diseases like AIDS or hepatitis through the 
sharing of needles has been ongoing since the May 2008 shutdown of 
the previous operation on Cormorant Street.

The Cormorant Street site operated for six years. Neighbours there 
were fed up with the filth, disturbances and hazards associated with 
the operation, and finally forced its eviction.

Yesterday it was learned that since the Cormorant Street operation 
shut down, VIHA has not seen any increase in diseases associated with 
injection-drug use. Rates of infection for hepatitis C and AIDS have 
actually declined slightly over the past five years.

But Dr. Richard Stanwick, VIHA's chief medical health officer, said 
that is no reason to stop pursuing harm-reduction measures.

Stanwick said injection-drug users typically have a 20 per cent HIV 
infection rate, which nobody should consider acceptable.

"In medicine, the status quo is never considered acceptable," he said.

Stanwick also said a fixed site has not been completely ruled out. It 
may well happen as VIHA moves quickly with a review on how best to 
offer harm-reduction programs.

In the meantime, the mobile needle exchanges delivered by vans on 
regular routes will continue and will be augmented by a move to 
expand the distribution of clean needles, he said.

Victoria Coun. Philippe Lucas, a strong advocate of harm reduction 
through distribution of clean needles, said he thinks VIHA made a 
mistake by shutting down the needle-exchange advisory committee.

The committee was set up after an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to 
replace the Cormorant Street facility with one on Pandora Avenue, and 
had a broad range of community representation, including police, 
neighbourhoods and the city.

Katrina Jensen, executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island, also 
said the need for a fixed needle exchange remains crucial.

These services provide some people with the only health services they 
can get, where they may get a shot at detox or help with 
mental-health problems, she said. 
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