Home Uncategorized Needle exchange program cut from Heads and Hands

Needle exchange program cut from Heads and Hands

by The Concordian October 18, 2011
Head and Hands, a clinic and social services organization for youth aged 18-25, has scrapped its Streetwork needle exchange program in Notre-Dame-de-Grace, potentially leaving hundreds of users in the west end without clean needles and other forms of support.
Juniper Belshaw, fundraising and development co-ordinator, said that the organization was told by Montreal’s Directeur de santé publique last August that the $75,000 required to fund the two programs had been slashed from their budget. Other organizations also lost their funding in the round of budget cuts, said Belshaw.
A spokesperson from public health confirmed the cuts, saying they were ultimately made for budget reasons, though the results are unfortunate.
By Aug. 19, Streetwork closed down, leaving the two street workers out of a job and potentially hundreds of people without their services, which includes referrals to counselling and other services.
“I like to think of these street workers as these harm reduction fairies,” said Belshaw. “At Head and Hands, we work with a harm reduction approach, which has a lot to do with meeting people where they’re at. […] If someone is having sex, we want to talk about how to have safer sex. If someone’s using drugs, we want to say, ‘Hey, here’s some information about how to smoke more safely, how to inject more safely.’”
The workers distributed 360 needles, 64 crack pipes and over 6,700 condoms between March and July of this year, and touched base with nearly 700 new contacts.
Ironically, while Head and Hands has had to cut its needle exchange program, it has gone public just over a week after it was announced that a provincial pilot project will see the launch of two safe injection sites. Health minister Yves Bolduc said he had consulted and will work with needle exchange services Cactus and Point de Repères to set up safe injection sites in Montreal and Quebec City.
Both needle exchange programs and safe injection sites are based on the “harm reduction” model, which attempts to reduce the harmful risks of drug consumption without requiring users to abstain. With needle exchange programs like Head and Hands’, street workers are mobile, visiting clients at their apartments, metros, parks and the street. Whereas safe injection sites are stationary, and users can safely shoot up and receive medical attention and other resources, without the fear of being arrested for violating drug laws.
Groups have been anticipating the announcement of more safe injection sites across the country since the Supreme Court of Canada granted on Oct. 1 an exemption to allow InSite, a Vancouver safe injection site, to remain open in spite of federal drug laws. The ruling has left the possibility for safe injection sites to pop up without problem in the rest of the country.
Speaking in an interview less than a week before Bolduc’s announcement, Marianne Tonnelier, director-general of Cactus, said that her organization was looking to set up a safe injection site before the end of the year and was working on a request for an exemption.
Dr. Julie Bruneau, a researcher in drug addiction at Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, was one of those who welcomed the announcement of the sites.
“We need an array of services for those who are hard to reach. This is one of the many services that can help with that,” she said.
A survey a few years ago estimated the number of drug users on the Island of Montreal at between 10,000 and 15,000 people. But, said Bruneau, each city is different when it comes to drug use patterns. Montreal, unlike Vancouver, does not have a concentrated group of drug users in one place. It may be that there will be more than one safe injection site in Montreal, potentially helping the users who received support from Streetwork out in the western part of the island, she suggested.
But Belshaw still hopes to begin another needle exchange program, this time by seeking out diverse sources of funding instead of relying on one government source. There has almost always been a form of the service in the 40 years that Head and Hands has been operating, she said.
“I think what we’re really focusing on right now is the impact this has on our clients, and the way that we can bring this service back,” said Belshaw.

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