Pubdate: Wed, 15 Jun 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Authors: Jonathan Sher & Patrick Maloney
Page: A2


New stats on HIV and Hepatitis C among drug users backs calls for safe
injection sites

Those pushing to build safe injection sites in London seized upon
stats Tuesday that show an epidemic of HIV and Hepatitis C among drug
users in the city.

"Do I hope this HIV outbreak will help to convince people (safe
injection sites are needed)? Yes I do," Dr. Chris Mackie, medical
officer of health for London and Middlesex County said Tuesday. "We
will probably need one in our community if not more than one."

Since 2005, local HIV rates have surged by more than 50 per cent, from
5.9 cases per 100,000 people to 9.0. In the same period, Ontario rates
fell from 7.4 per 100,000 to 5.5.

While Mackie says there are a number of reasons rates in London have
surged, one group has borne the lion's share of the impact - those who
inject drugs with shared needles that spread not only HIV but also
Hepatitis C, inflammation of the heart and a nasty variant of
streptococcal disease.

Two-thirds of those newly-diagnosed with HIV in London Middlesex are
injection drug users -more than the 12% in the province.

"We have an HIV outbreak among injection drug users," he

His concerns and advocacy for safe injection sites are shared by the
politician chairing the Middlesex-London Health Unit's board, London
Coun. Jesse Helmer.

"There are people who are dying if we don't get them the harm
reduction measures that are needed," Helmer said.

Safe injection sites, are "much needed," he said.

While safe-injection sites make some uncomfortable, Helmer says those
concerns should be put in perspective. "Can we prevent overdose deaths
and help these folks find a way out of their drug addiction? Or you're
a little uncomfortable?"

Comments by Mackie and Helmer come at a crucial time. This summer, a
coalition he co-chairs will recommend how to combat the harm of drug
use, including whether London should create safe injection sites where
staff distribute new needles and guard against overdoses.

"(This epidemic) will create a greater sense of urgency," Mackie

The coalition includes social agencies, schools and police.

It's not the first time Mackie urged haste - he did so in January
after warning of growing use of crystal meth in a region struggling
with opioids such as OxyContin.

Also coming to a head are efforts by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network
to conduct studies to determine if safe injection sites make sense in
London and Thunder Bay, and if so, where they might go.

The call for so-called safe-injection sites has led to pushback from
some politicians and police who fear they will become magnets for
crime, claims that Mackie says aren't supported by evidence.

Having a safe injection site is just part of the solution, Mackie
said. "Needle distribution alone won't solve this problem. We need to
consider social determinants of health . . . leading people to use
these drugs and become infected with these viruses," Mackie said.
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