[Harm Reduction] kits coming to city this summer
By Toby Gorman - Nanaimo News Bulletin
A controversial harm reduction strategy will go ahead in Nanaimo, this time with city council’s consultation.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority’s original foray into providing safer tools for drug users three years ago was met with outrage from both council and neighbourhood groups because of a lack of consultation.
This time, VIHA will use several fixed sites in areas known to be havens for drug users instead of a mobile van.
Lorna Medd, a medical health officer with VIHA, spoke to city council Monday, though neighbourhood groups continue to look in from the outside where consultation is concerned.
Medd said distributing the safer crack kits is the best way to reduce the spread of HIV, AIDS and hepatitis C among drug users.
“We are really struggling because we have no gold standard treatment to deal with addictions to crack cocaine,” said Medd. “And they are not an easy group of people to connect with.”
The kits include condoms, needles, syringes, alcohol swabs, push sticks, plastic tubes and cookers. The kits help reduce the risk of transmitting diseases like HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis C by replacing broken and dirty glass tubes drug users commonly use to inhale drugs.
In the central Island, 80 per cent of 125 known drug users use crack cocaine, which has become the drug of choice since the mid-1990s because of its availability. Sixty-five of those users are based in Nanaimo. Of those, five per cent have contracted HIV while 72 per cent have hepatitis C.
“The more we are able to offer useful tools that can prevent the transmission of these diseases the more likely we are to break the pattern and hopefully bring people in to other kinds of treatment,” said Medd.
The kits will be distributed starting sometime in the summer.
The project will be coordinated with other outreach programs in Nanaimo, including the city’s Housing First Strategy, RCMP community policing, homeless outreach crisis response, Clearview detox centre and Harris House clinic, and with a memorandum of understanding between the city and VIHA.
Mayor John Ruttan said he had concerns with the kits being distributed by vehicle, saying instead he would prefer the exchanges to be made a fixed sites.
“The mobile exchange certainly had its challenges and I think it would be more palatable to the city to have these exchanges at fixed sites,” said Ruttan.