Pubdate: Wed, 17 Mar 2010
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2010 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts, Times Colonist


Drug users could be offered addiction treatment and clean needles
under the same roof in a proposal now being considered by the
Vancouver Island Health Authority.

The authority is looking at using its Addiction Outpatient Treatment
office at 1250 Quadra St. near Yates Street as a site for distributing
hypodermic needles and other paraphernalia for illegal drug use, such
as crack pipes and sterile swabs.

It's an idea the executive director of Cedars, an addiction recovery
centre in Cobble Hill, calls "absolutely insane."

"I can't imagine anybody would have such poor insight as to think
that's a reasonable thing to do," said Neal Berger, noting that at
Cedars, staff have to be careful about even showing a movie featuring
drug use. Even a flu shot can become a trigger point for a recovering

"Just the sight of a needle, just the thought of it, this [addiction]
is a brain disease and the brain starts playing tricks on people,"
said Berger.

According to the health authority's website, the addiction outpatient
office offers counselling and consultation on a drop-in basis most
weekdays for addicts looking for help to get off drugs.

VIHA spokeswoman Suzanne Germain said the office is just one of 60
sites being considered across the Island for distributing needles.

A final decision on which sites will offer the supplies will be made
in late June or early July.

The rationale behind offering clean needles to addicts is that it
reduces the spread of infectious diseases, such as AIDS or hepatitis
C, through the sharing of needles.

Germain said the addiction outpatient office could be exempted from
distributing needles if a case can be made that the two functions are
not compatible. "There is that process in place."

The health authority has a long history of problems implementing its
harm-reduction strategy.

A fixed needle exchange on Cormorant Street closed down in 2008 after
ongoing complaints from neighbours about public disturbances and hazards.

Proposals for permanent needle-distribution sites on Pandora Avenue
and Princess Street were also spiked, amid community outrage.

In November, the health authority opted to spread needle distribution
throughout the community in facilities whose primary purpose is
something else, for example a public health office.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, the chief medical health officer for VIHA, said
nobody wants to see a rerun of Cormorant Street. "It was not
beneficial to anybody."

But Stanwick said experiences in other areas have shown clean needles
can be made available from a wide variety of health facilities -- what
he called "needle exchange in a drawer" -- with no significant problems.

At Cedars in Cobble Hill, however, Dr. Eric Olson said distributing
needles at a treatment centre would be confusing for addicts seeking
help. "I don't see that as a good combo.' It's not a good fit," said

"Most people who are approaching some form of treatment, or recovery
process are thinking, 'My life isn't going all that great -- maybe I
should look at doing things differently.' Then it's, 'Oh , I can get
needles here.'

"I'm not against harm reduction but I think it's a separate issue and
probably it would be best if it was in a separate place." 
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