Pubdate: Tue, 31 May 2011
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2011 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


On the three-year anniversary of the closure of Victoria' s 
problem-plagued needle exchange for drug addicts, the former 
operators are still committed to another try.

Katrina Jensen, executive director of the AIDS Vancouver Island, said 
without a fixed site for passing out clean needles, too many people 
are left deeply entrenched in drug use without access to health care.

"We are still missing an inside location where we can meet with 
people and build a relationship with them and get them access to 
health services," said Jensen.

On May 31, 2008, AIDS Vancouver Island closed the doors on its former 
needle exchange on Cormorant Street when its landlord moved to evict. 
The closure ended for its neighbours a sixyear nightmare of open drug 
use, drug dealing, discarded needles, blood-smeared refuse and 
randomly deposited human feces.

Since then, AIDS Vancouver Island has passed out clean needles from a 
moving van to serve street people. Passing out clean needles is 
primarily a matter of harm reduction, helping to cut back on the 
spread of infectious diseases like AIDS or hepatitis C through sharing needles.

Also, the Vancouver Island Health Authority has moved to make clean 
needles available in its various community locations, from hospitals 
to public health offices.

This approach was finally adopted after the health authority twice 
attempted to re-open a fixed site needle exchange at Pandora Avenue 
and Princess Street.

On both occasions the initiatives were abandoned after loud and 
sustained community objections.

Stewart Johnston, whose law offices were located near the Cormorant 
Street site, said his experience has left him believing any attempt 
to restart such a facility would be a big "mistake."

"We were literally picking up feces regularly, calling the city work 
crews because we're not equipped to deal with bio-hazardous waste," 
said Johnston.

"A needle exchange, if it's anything like the one we had here, is a 
'honey pot.'" he said. "It draws the addicts, it draws the fences to 
get rid of stolen goods, it draws the prostitutes and it draws the dealers."

"You get this great gathering of that particular subculture," said Johnston.

But spreading the distribution of clean needles throughout the 
community, as is now done, prevents such a concentration. "You don't 
get so much of a honey pot."

But back at AIDS Vancouver Island, Jensen said circumstances in 
Victoria have changed since the operation of the old Cormorant Street 
site so much that Victoria is now ready for another permanent needle 
exchange, and also a fixed site for addicts to inject their drugs 
under medical supervision.

"I think we are ready, I think our community is ready, for a 
supervised injection facilities," she said.

Previously, "the tiny little needle exchange, with its two staff, was 
providing a range of services for a significant number of people, too 
much of a burden for that service," said Jensen.

But in the three years since the Cormorant Street exchange closed, a 
number of shelters, including Our Place and Rock Bay Landing Shelter, 
have opened. Needles are being made available throughout the 
community. And outreach treatment efforts, like the Assertive 
Community Treatment teams, are helping street people in their own environment.

With these outreach efforts in place, a new fixed site needle 
exchange will not act as the same focus for drug-related behaviour.

Now, "my bottom line, before we operate a fixed site, is just to have 
a location," said Jensen.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom