Pubdate: Fri, 18 Nov 2016
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Marilou Gagnon


Don't ignore their specialized training in harm reduction, says
Marilou Gagnon.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott is hosting two events in Ottawa
this week. The first, a conference, will be held today and will
feature presentations by physicians, pharmacists, politicians, chief
medical officers, police officers and researchers, just to name a few.
Then, on Saturday, a summit will be held.

It is unclear who has been invited to attend the summit, but according
to the website, it "will bring together individuals and organizations
that have the authorities and commitment to take action to combat the
opioid crisis."

This raises the question: Where are the nurses?

Canadian nurses are recognized as international leaders and experts in
harm reduction, a health-care approach aimed at reducing the harms of
drug use. On the ground, nurses have been implementing innovative and
effective harm-reduction interventions for close to 20 years. As early
as 1988, the AIDS Prevention Street Nurse Program was established in
British Columbia with a focus on needle and syringe exchange.

Street nurses developed specialized harm-reduction knowledge, skills,
interventions and programs that were eventually featured in a
documentary entitled Bevel Up. It has been used extensively as an
educational tool in health-care programs across Canada.

Street nurses were also part of the collective efforts to implement
supervised injection services in Vancouver. When these services were
finally implemented, nurses were at the front line and worked closely
with peer workers to provide care to people who inject drugs.
Supervised injection sites represented uncharted territory for health

Nurses led the way in developing necessary knowledge, techniques,
protocols, tools and frameworks, pioneering new ways of providing care
based on their experience.

Canadian nurses are also recognized as leaders and experts in
harm-reduction policy, research and advocacy. Nursing organizations,
such as the Canadian Nurses Association, the Registered Nurses'
Association of Ontario, the Association of Registered Nurses of
British Columbia and the British Columbia Nurses' Union, have been
directly involved in policy and advocacy work, including the
development of position statements, discussion papers, briefs and so

Together, they intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada to keep
Insite open in Vancouver. Nursing researchers have also contributed to
a solid body of evidence on harm reduction - evidence that is being
used internationally to inform policy and practice.

The health minister is hoping to develop an action plan to address the
opioid crisis with a prioritized set of actions. However, without the
meaningful and active involvement of nurses and nursing organizations,
this plan is not likely to succeed.

Nurses are, and will continue to be, at the forefront of the opioid
crisis. They must have a seat at the table.

Marilou Gagnon, RN, PhD, is an associate professor at the School of 
Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa and the 
founder of the Coalition of Nurses and Nursing Students for Supervised 
Injection Services.
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