Health authority planning to increase harm reduction activities

Health authority is looking at distributing crack kits, needles and other harm reduction supplies at additional facilities.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority is looking at distributing crack kits, needles and other harm reduction supplies at additional facilities across the Island.

The health authority made harm reduction a hot topic in Nanaimo when it rolled out a pilot project for a mobile service without consultation in 2007, drawing backlash from the community and city council.

The health authority backed off, but last year implemented the first phase of its harm reduction strategy, which included distributing these items at eight ‘secondary’ sites across the Island, meaning the facilities’ primary purpose is not to distribute harm reduction supplies, but service users can get the supplies while there.

Three sites are in the central Island region, including one in Nanaimo, although the health authority will not reveal the exact locations to protect clients who access the services.

Val Wilson, health authority spokeswoman, said there were no reports of public congregation or disorder at any of the secondary sites and no reports of interference with other services on site.

The secondary sites are distributing up to 160 syringes monthly. Stats are not collected on other harm reduction supplies, as this would be too time consuming for providers, Wilson said.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, a medical health officer with the health authority, said health officials have just begun looking at other sites to distribute harm reduction supplies. The final number of additional sites and where they will be is not finalized.

“The exploration is beginning,” he said. “How long will it take? I really don’t know.”

Each potential site will be reviewed using a variety of criteria, including local need, physical location, and appropriateness of both community and neighbourhood environment and the facility itself, said Hasselback.

Nanaimo would benefit from more sites because drug users are spread out across the city and Harris House, the primary provider of harm reduction materials, reaches mainly those in the downtown area, he said.

“Many of the individuals are well-integrated in society,” said Hasselback. “Public access is not as good as you might think. Nanaimo clearly is a community that would benefit from more locations.”

He said harm reduction is an important health service that reduces the spread of infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV and allows service providers to develop a relationship with those who could benefit from a lifestyle change.

The strategy also saves the health-care system money – a single case of Hepatitis C can cost between $125,000 and $250,000.