Pubdate: Fri, 05 May 2017
Source: Medicine Hat News (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Alberta Newspaper Group, Inc.
Author: Mo Cranker
Page: A1


A safe-injection site could be coming to Medicine Hat.

Though still early in the process, HIV Community Link executive
director Leslie Hill says this is something communities around Alberta
could be seeing over the course of the next year or so.

"Right now we have a researcher in Medicine Hat working on creating a
survey to get to drug users," she said. "We are doing this in response
to a rise in opioid use across the province and we are trying to be
proactive with this."

Hill says the survey is all about getting information on what drug
users feel they need.

"We're hoping to hear from about 200 people in the community to see
what they think they need," she said. "The survey is just one of the
steps; we also will be looking at things like crime statistics, HIV
and Hepatitis C rates and overdose statistics."

The province of Alberta announced funding for this program last
October, and if a safe-injection site were to come to Medicine Hat,
Hill says a funding source is still up in the air.

She says a safe-injection site is all about giving people a place they
feel safe to inject their drugs, but also to educate them.

"At the site, if created, there would be someone overseeing it. There
would also be a place to dispose of, and get clean needles," she said.
"This site would also give people a place to access resources within
the city. It would act as a place where they could learn about where
they can go when they need help."

Hill says drug users and the community would both benefit from a site
in Medicine Hat.

"For the individual, it creates a trusting relationship for someone
who doesn't always access traditional health care and support. Usually
when there is a supervised site, there is a decrease in the use of
emergency services," she said. "A site could also decrease the
likelihood of finding things like needles in playgrounds, and it could
actually decrease crime."

Hill said she did not want to speculate on how badly the community
needs a safe injection site, but did share some statistics on drug
usage in Medicine Hat.

"Our organization is the group that distributes injection equipment
and over the past three years we have seen a 114 per cent increase in
the number of clients in our programs," she said. "We have also seen a
56 per cent increase in needles distributed - year over year we are
seeing an increase."

In 2016, the HIV Community Link handed out 242,000 needles in Medicine
Hat - another 25,000 in March alone of this year.

"We are seeing a huge increase in Medicine Hat, which is usually an
indicator that something like this could be useful," said Hill. Hill
says there will be multiple organizations meeting to determine the
usefulness of a safe-injection site, with one of those being the
Medicine Hat Police Service. Insp. Joe West has been with the service
for 20 years and says over the past few there has been an increase in
drug usage.

"We have certainly seen an increase in the intensity of drug use over
the past couple years. That is primarily due to the use of
methamphetamine," he said. "Until a few years ago the drug of choice
in Medicine Hat was crack and crack-cocaine. With the uprise of meth
usage we are seeing people get very intense highs and do things they
wouldn't be otherwise doing - we are also seeing an increase in mental
health calls, which is often linked to drug usage."

Hill says she is hoping to have the information gathered by the end of
summer. If a safe-injection site is to open in Medicine Hat Hill says
it would, "likely not be during this calendar year."
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