Pharmacies, Health Units Are Possible New Injection Sites
The Vancouver Island Health Authority wants to improve its distribution of needles to drug addicts by increasing the number of locations that hand out the syringes.
VIHA has struggled to set up a permanent needle exchange site in Victoria, which prompted health officials to review its approach to harm reduction. The health authority will conduct an expedited review of all its facilities to determine how to expand the distribution, explained Dr. Richard Stanwick, VIHA's chief medical health officer.
Nanaimo has been fortunate enough to establish a permanent site with the Harris House, according to city social planner John Horn. Though that site came with its own controversy, there has been little reason to indicate the program is not working. VIHA's new needle delivery system will augment such systems and distribute the needles to other locations as well.
"Needle exchange services --- as part of an overall harm reduction strategy -- are key to preventing the spread of infectious disease," said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for VIHA. "An effective and accessible distribution system for clean needles is essential to further reducing Hepatitis C and HIV infection rates on Vancouver Island."
The expansion of needle exchange services will put clean needles into public health units and possibly pharmacies or non-profit agency partners.
"Given the human and economic burden associated with drug use and infections, our objective is to reach out to users to offer them support to get off drugs, as well as to provide health care services and prevent the spread of disease," said Stanwick.
"While we are encouraged by the reduction in infection rates, we remain vigilant about providing harm reduction service in our VIHA communities."
Horn said more locations giving out needles will help prevent addicts from infectious diseases, but he applauded service providers in Nanaimo for their ability to establish a permanent needle exchange site.
"It's a testament to the professionalism of the services in Nanaimo," he said. "We've been able to establish a fixed site, where they couldn't even get the door open on one in Victoria. VIHA has been raked over the coals over this issue down there."
The harm reduction program, particularly the needle exchange, decreases the spread of disease. The number of new hepatitis C and HIV infections on Vancouver Island have decreased over the past 5 years, according to VIHA.
Since 2004, Hepatitis C infection rates on Southern Vancouver Island have fallen from 83 infections per 100,000 population to 53 infections per 100,000 in 2008.
HIV incidence on Southern Vancouver Island has decreased from 13.2 per 100,000 population to six per 100,000 population over the same time period.
November 17, 2009
Nanaimo Daily News