One year latter and still not fixed: Harm Reduction Victoria

On October the 1st 2009 Harm Reduction Victoria (HRV) hosted a forum entitled: “Needle exchanges and supervised consumption services can contribute to safer neighbourhoods”. The forum was a panel discussion comprised of injection drug users, needle exchange activist, the Executive Director of the Dr. Peter Centre (DPC) and myself as a rep from the West End to speak to how the DPC functions in a densely populated residential neighbourhood. HRV is advocating for a “fixed” needle exchange facility to replace the one that was closed in May 2008 and to replace the mobile needle exchanges that are currently deployed.

A little background

In May of 2008, the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) closed a fixed needle exchange facility on Cormorant Street caving to the demands of business in the area claiming excessive street disorder.2008 CBC report
HRV stated that it was obvious that the decision to close the fixed needle exchange rather than develop a plan to mitigate the negative impact to the surrounding area would cost lives.HRV

In the week leading up to HRV forum one of the panelist died. Randy Beddow, a member and a Director of the Board of Society of Living

Intravenous Drug Users (SOLID) died of unknown causes. At the beginning of the forum his friends paid tribute to him. It was a poignant moment that made the importance of the evening all the more apparent. Injection drug users lives are high risk. As my partner who is general internist at St. Paul Hospital and has many injection drug users as patients says: “There is nothing glamorous about drug users, it’s a hard life”.
news story about Randy

The first two panels were injection drug users, Larry Basaraba and Kim Freeman. They where pretty choked up about the death of their friend and spoke to the point of how necessary a safe consumption site was needed.

Craig Ballantyne was the next speaker and he is part of a group that is doing “guerilla needle exchange”, where he picks up used needles off the street and also does needle exchange. Craig described himself as a recovering addict and spoke very well about the need for harm reduction measure from VIHA. Craig made the point that middle class folk tend to create discourses around drug user who are living on the street and try to depict them as not being part of the community. The important point is that there high rates of drug use by all segments of society, but it really only becomes problematic for when it is combined with poverty and homelessness. Folks injection drugs on the street speaks to the importance of a housing and health care continuum that needs to serve everyone not just those who can afford to be housed.

Maxine Davis, the Executive Director spoke next, describing the Dr. Peter Centre (DPC) and how it is possible to have services for high needs patients in a highly residential neighbourhood. See last post for more details.

Then it was my turn. My task was to speak to the success of the DPC in the West End from a resident’s perceptive. I spoke to how well the DPC was integrated into the community and there was real buy-in from residents as to the organization’s mission. The larger point I tried to make is the notion of seeing service providers as providing capacity to a neighbourhood to deal with issues.

The overwhelming body of evidence is that harm reduction measures like needle exchange work. That the VIHA would close a needle exchange is really a travesty of public health policy. Needle exchanges and safe consumption sites can function in high-density areas. The Ministry of Health Service should have standards of care that are evidence based and this should be mandated across all Health authorities. Why should the standard of care be different in Victoria from Vancouver? Vancouver has a host of needle exchanges throughout the city. If a particular community health intervention has positive health outcomes in Vancouver then it will work in Victoria too.

Leave a Response