Pubdate: Tue, 01 May 2012
Source: Abbotsford Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 The Abbotsford Times
Author: Rochelle Baker


Fraser Health Sticks It to Safe Injection Sites, Suggests Needle 
Exchange Is the Best Option for Abbotsford

Fraser Health Authority released a proposed harm reduction plan 
centered around needle distribution for the City of Abbotsford on Monday.

The proposed plan, authored by FHA public health director David 
Portesi, does not propose establishing a safe injection site within Abbotsford.

The proposed needle exchange plan would likely need to serve a 
minimum of 500 intravenous drug users living in the Abbotsford area, 
and distribute about 120,000 needles annually, stated the report.

The top three suggested sites for a proposed needle exchange were 
near the Salvation Army's Centre of Hope along the West Railway 
corridor; a site near the intersection of Peardonville Road and South 
Fraser Way, or in the Jubilee Park area.

The city is currently reviewing its current anti-harm reduction bylaw 
that prohibits any harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges 
or supervised injection sites.

Abbotsford has a high rate of hospital admissions due to illicit drug 
overdoses compared to Surrey and Burnaby/New Westminster areas, which 
have needle distribution programs, data from the report shows.

Abbotsford was only second to New Westminster for the rate of people 
admitted to hospital because of overdoses in a comparison that 
included Surrey and Burnaby, data in the report showed.

However, Portesi stated last week that if New Westminster's numbers, 
which are volatile due to its small population, were combined with 
neighbouring Burnaby, a more accurate hospital overdose rate would 
result, leaving Abbotsford at the top of the pack.

New Westminster's overdose hospital admission rate was 23.6 per 
100,000 people, between 2006/07 and 2010/11.

Abbotsford's rate was 21.9, Surrey's was 17.3 and Burnaby's was 11.4.

Deaths from overdoses in Abbotsford are also above the FHA regional 
rate and the provincial rate, noted the report. Abbotsford's illicit 
drug mortality rate from 2005 to 2009 was 8.08 per 100,000 people, 
while the Fraser Health regional rate was 6.86 and the provincial 
rate was 7.79.

Vancouver, Surrey and New Westminster's mortality rates - which were 
11.79, 11.07 and 9.01 respectively - were also higher than the provincial rate.

Abbotsford also has a high rate of new hepatitis C infections, which 
Fraser Health believes can be tied to the city's lack of harm 
reduction services and addicts re-using dirty needles and crack pipes.

Abbotsford's infection rate for 2010 was 64.4 per cent versus a 
provincial rate of 54.9 and a Canadian rate of 33.7 in 2009.

Fraser Health has been pressing the city to establish harm reduction 
measures in Abbotsford for years.

A "very crude estimate" of the number of injection drug users in the 
community is anywhere from 280 to 470, according to Fraser Health.

But Portesi recently said the numbers are likely very conservative 
because illicit drug users are often unwilling to identify themselves.

Fraser Health recommends a needle exchange program to reduce the risk 
of transmitting blood borne diseases such as HIV and Hep C.

Such programs also allow drug users to come into regular contact with 
professionals who can direct clients to other necessary healthcare 
services or treatment.

The report cited evidence-based research that indicates providing 
needles to addicts does not increase drug use, does not negatively 
impact drug treatment or increase the number of needles found in the street.

The harm reduction plan provided possible needle distribution methods 
such as using a fixed location or a mobile site, such as a van or bus.

A fixed site has the advantage of delivering other educational, 
counselling, testing and healthcare services.

A mobile bus would allow the delivery of other services over a 
greater area, and perhaps reduce any community opposition that would 
arise over a permanent location, noted the report.

Outreach worker or peer distribution of needles are more cost 
effective models but are limited when it comes to providing access to 
other services.

Fraser Health, which would oversee the harm reduction program, plans 
to establish partnerships with Abbotsford stakeholders, including the 
IDU community, the Abbotsford Police Department, the city and 
community and business organizations.

The program would be implemented should the city retract its 
anti-harm reduction bylaw.

But steps that could be undertaken immediately include setting up a 
harm reduction community advisory board and establishing needle 
disposal services at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman said Monday that the report will come 
before council at an upcoming meeting.

Banman said while he wouldn't support a supervised injection site, he 
personally favoured a needle exchange program.

The harm reduction measure would address public safety concerns 
around dirty discarded needles on the street, reduce the transmission 
of disease, be cost-effective and provide drug users with a "measure 
of dignity," he said.

"From a human perspective, if [a needle exchange] stops the 
transference of AIDS, we should use it," said Banman, "and prevent 
the death sentence of a contaminated needle."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom