Needle collection, peer outreach focus of new Fraser harm reduction plan

Little sign of progress yet by health authority on development of supervised drug use sites

A new regional harm reduction strategy being developed by Fraser Health will focus on collection of used needles, provision of clean needles and smoking supplies, and outreach by recovered addicts to active drug users.

The health authority has struck an agreement with RainCity Housing and Support Society to help develop the expanded services, which exist in some but not all parts of the region.

Medical health officer Dr. Ingrid Tyler said it’s hoped peer outreach led by RainCity will help educate users on safe use and discard of needles, and better persuade them to reach out for addiction treatment and other health services when they are receptive.

Those former addicts would also be on the front line of providing users with clean supplies, containers to safely store discarded needles instead of dropping the in public, and helping alert users when a spike in dangerous overdoses happens.

“We want to ensure we create access across the whole region and there are no areas being unintentionally missed in terms of adequate harm reduction access,” she said, but added the rollout will consider community-specific factors.

Tyler said it’s too early to say which new communities could get additional harm reduction services, or what they might be.

The agreement doesn’t involve the most controversial side of harm reduction – supervised drug consumption sites that advocates say have been effective in preventing overdose deaths in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Fraser Health earlier this summer committed to pursuing supervised use sites in multiple communities as part of its broader strategy to combat overdose deaths.

Asked if Fraser has yet reached agreement with any local municipalities on priority sites for supervised use, Tyler said those conversations are ongoing.

“It’s a service that we would like to be able to provide to those who need it across the region,” she said.

“We continue to work with our various partners in communities across Fraser to identify where these services would be the most appropriate and have the greatest impact.”

The federal Liberal government has so far given no signal it will relax the Safer Communities Act passed by the previous Conservative government that requires local support and clearance of a series of other hurdles in order to open any new safe injection site.

The drug overdose crisis in B.C. had claimed 488 lives this year as of the end of August, with 172 of those deaths in the Fraser region.

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