Pubdate: Thu, 05 May 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Author: Randy Richmond
Page: A1


Researchers looking into a safe drug-injection site in London have 
finished interviewing 200 needle users.

Now, they face another set of interview subjects - such as police, 
and politicians - who may not be as welcoming of a site.

"It's to gain feedback, their perceptions and knowledge about the 
issues they might face," Geoff Bardwell, who is co-ordinating the 
research, said Wednesday. "There is going to be a variety of 
perspectives. What we are hoping to do is ensure we capture all the 

But whatever comes of the study as far as a safe-injection site goes, 
the surveys of 200 people who have or still inject drugs have 
collected a range of data from housing to health care that will help 
everyone tackle the problem, he said.

"There is a lot of important information coming from the study," 
especially for a city embarking on a community-wide drug strategy, 
Bardwell said.

The Ontario HIV Treatment Network is overseeing feasibility studies 
of safe injection sites in two cities, London and Thunder Bay, with 
the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection here helping.

London was chosen in part because of the high needle use here, with 
6,000 people using the Connection's needle exchange program, and 
ravages from opioid drug injection.

That opioid abuse - taken over lately by crystal meth - is well known 
to emergency services, social service and health agencies.

Already on alert because of opioids, city health officials are 
tackling an onslaught of crystal meth that carries a different set of problems.

A safe place to inject with clean needles and nurses on duty could 
reduce illnesses and save lives, health officials say.

But across Canada, police forces have opposed safe-injection sites. 
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police says the sites will 
encourage illicit drug use and continue to feed crime.

Vancouver has a safe-injection site, and other cities such as 
Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa are considering the sites where addicts 
can shoot up under medical supervision meant to reduce problems, 
including overdose deaths, associated with illegal drug use.

The feasibility study in London began with training of people who've 
lived with drug addiction to become research associates and oversee 
each of the 45-minute surveys, Bardwell said.

"We wanted people that would be able to relate to the community."

He heard from participants it made a difference to talk to people 
who've lived with injection drug use, Bardwell said.

That was key in gaining information beyond what people thought about 
a safe injection site, with questions about Hepatitis C, HIV, 
endocartitis (a condition that can damage or destroy heart valves, 
causing life-threatening issues), housing and homelessness.

The surveys took three weeks to complete, with the data set to be 
analyzed over the summer.

Interviews with health and social service agencies, police and other 
emergency services and government representatives will take about a 
month, Bardwell said.
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