Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jan 2013
Source: Abbotsford Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013 The Abbotsford Times
Author: Rochelle Baker


Needles Poke To The Forefront In The First Of Two Harm Reduction
Public Forums

Members of a panel of service providers that help Abbotsford addicts
agreed to disagree around the benefits of needle exchange services at
a harm reduction forum held Tuesday night.

The city of Abbotsford hosted the debate as part of a review of its
anti-harm reduction bylaws that ban measures such as handing out
condoms, needle exchange services, medical marijuana dispensaries and
supervised injection sites.

Fraser Health has repeatedly urged the city to revise the bylaw to
allow needle exchange services in the city, which it believes has high
rates of new hepatitis C infections due to addicts re-using dirty
needles or crack pipes.

More than 100 people, many waving placards in favour of harm
reduction, packed into Matsqui Centennial Auditorium to hear the
debate and public comments, which covered the full spectrum of opinion
on the issue.

Community organizations on the panel included the Warm Zone - a centre
serving at-risk women - as well as Kinghaven/Peardonville House
treatment centres, the Salvation Army and the Life Recovery
Association - a women's Christian recovery centre.

The Warm Zone and Kinghaven/ Peardonville treatment centre
representatives stated they favoured changing the city's bylaws to
allow needle exchange services.

Members of the Salvation Army reserved judgment on the bylaw, but
stated if needle exchange services were taking place legally, they
would refer clients to other organizations.

However, Life Recovery representatives opposed needle exchange
services, arguing the method enabled drug addicts to continue using.

Supporters of needle exchange services on the panel and in the
audience stressed the bylaw was harmful for addicts' health and both
abstinence and harm reduction should be presented as choices for drug

Warm Zone outreach worker and former addict Erica Thomson said in her
experience harm reduction is necessary to keep drug users alive until
they make it to recovery.

"When you are street entrenched it's hard to stay alive until you get
into detox or treatment," she said.

"I practise abstinence . . . but harm reduction is part of my story.
It kept me alive until I could get a life and I've got a good one today."

She noted while using illegal drugs she contracted Hep C and the cost
for the health care system to treat the disease was around $77,000.

Milt Walker, executive director of Kinghaven/Peardonville, said the
treatment facilities used methadone as a harm reduction measure and it
was necessary to "meet addicts where they are at."

Tim Williams, board chair of Life Recovery, said the association
employed a faith-based, 12-step abstinence-only approach to

He pointed out that everyone on the panel had the best interests of
the population they served at heart, but handing out needles to
addicts was contrary to his own understanding of an "act of love."

Residents at the forum also raised public safety issues around the
improper disposal of needles and condoms and the crime associated with
drug addiction.

One father said he wasn't against harm reduction but the location of
services had to be considered as he regularly found himself cleaning
used condoms and dirty needles from his front yard.

Other residents questioned why Fraser Health wasn't spending money on
more detox facilities in the community rather than pushing needle
exchange services.

Barry Shantz, director of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War
Survivors Fraser Health Region, not only criticized the bylaw, but the
city's forum and review as well.

Calling the process a "fiasco", Shantz said that the forum failed to
include members of the very population the harm reduction debate
concerned most.

- - A second public forum on harm reduction that features Fraser Health
experts is set for Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium,
32315 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford. For more information visit . 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D