Pubdate: Tue, 19 Dec 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Johanna Weidner
Page: B1


CAMBRIDGE - An innovative new peer-based pilot project will be
launched in Cambridge early next year with the aim of curbing improper
needle disposal in the community.

The project is a partnership between Region of Waterloo Public Health,
which will provide funding, Sanguen Health Centre and the City of Cambridge.

Along with removing needles through patrols and education, it will
offer employment and skill development to people who have experienced
substance abuse; they will be hired as the peer workers.

"There is no harm in trying other methods to connect people and get
them on board," said Violet Umanetz, Sanguen's outreach manager. "The
peers do so well working in the community."

Details of the pilot needle recovery project - modelled on similar
programs in London and Ottawa - are still being finalized, but it's
hoped peer workers will start in February.

While many people who use drugs dispose of paraphernalia properly,
Umanetz said needles are found dumped where they shouldn't be. At the
same time, Sanguen, which focuses on hepatitis C treatment and
prevention with offices in Waterloo and Guelph, hears from clients and
former clients who want to help with the problem.

"They would really like to be able to do something about it," Umanetz

The peer program is one of the last pieces recommended by public
health to regional council for a comprehensive strategy around safe
needle disposal. Other recommendations included outdoor boxes
available any time of day, better tracking, and education - all of
which have been put into place.

Now there's funding available to launch a pilot project to see if the
model will work in this community. The cost will depend on the hours
and number of peer workers.

Grace Bermingham, the region's manager of information, planning and
harm reduction, said the pilot will be evaluated and, if successful,
the goal would be to expand to other parts of the region if funding is
available. She said the region hopes to run it for at least half a
year to include the warm summer months, which are often more

Last year, the region handed out 600,000 syringes as part of its
harm-reduction strategy, and about 40 per cent were returned.

Bermingham said the peer workers are in a unique position to reach out
to people who are actively using drugs because they can relate and
have an understanding.

"The peer workers are really well positioned to do that work,"
Bermingham said. "They kind of have their ear to the ground."

Umanetz agrees. "Even if they're not actually using right now, they
know where to find people," she said.

And reaching people where they are is key, especially because drug use
moves around the community and "hot spots" can change within a week or

Umanetz said when people are asked about proper needle disposal, "what
they'll say is it's about accessibility."

Peer workers will hand out containers and pick them up, while talking
with users about safe disposal. "Just really getting people on board
with that side of things," Umanetz said.

She said the team at Sanguen, which has a community outreach van that
makes stops throughout the region three nights a week, is too small to
tackle the issue on its own.

The program also is a great opportunity for the peer workers, giving
them a "boost" to get on the track toward employment.

"Being involved in this program gives them new skills," Umanetz

Bermingham say it gives them an outlet to give back to the community
and "it can be really positive in their own development."

She's also hopeful the project will create a connection between people
in the community who see the issues related to substance use and drug
users, who are often marginalized.

"We're hoping that this can potentially build bridges as well,"
Bermingham said.
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