Street Connections needle retrieval program underway

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Thursday August 31, 2000

In response to a comprehensive evaluation recently completed for Street Connections, a demonstration needle retrieval project is underway now to the end of October in the Inner City. For most of this summer, trained community workers have been finding and picking up needles, needle wrappers and condoms. They also respond to calls from businesses and community organizations on a daily basis (Monday to Friday 981-0742).

"We anticipate that this project will lead to cleaner, safer neighborhoods," says Tom Kean, Executive Director, Mount Carmel Clinic. "It's one of the ways we are working to build an improved sense of cooperation between Mount Carmel Clinic and residents of the area."

Needle retrieval is one component of a comprehensive harm reduction strategy. "The basis of harm reduction is that high-risk behaviours like injection drug use and prostitution pose health risks to the general population that are more harmful than the activities themselves," adds Kean. "Harm reduction helps minimize the spread of HIV and other infections into the population at large, through strategies like education, needle exchanges and condom distribution."

A recent report commissioned by Mount Carmel Clinic will be released on August 30th. Key issues identified in this report include: the need for development of a harm reduction strategy; transferring governance and program development responsibilities to the Regional Health Authority; finding suitable sites for needle exchange and distribution; a needle retrieval program; a range of counseling, advocacy, health and education programs; and law enforcement strategies, among others.

According to the report, stakeholders including health care providers, community members, government, business, the justice system should collaborate on the development, implementation and delivery of the strategy.

"We're just beginning to look at developing this comprehensive program to integrate the principles of harm reduction, " adds Kean. "But it requires the support and cooperation of many groups within the City. Building a consensus among these groups will be the greatest challenge in shaping a future for this program."

During community consultation, area residents expressed concerns that the needle exchange program draws drug users into the community and contributes to its deterioration, and that the program encourages or condones illegal behaviour. Safety, particularly the safety of children emerged as a major concern, as it related particularly to needle retrieval. All interest groups agreed that a new site for the program should not be in a residential or main business area, or close to an area frequented by children.

"These are real concerns," says Kean. "Clients, business owners and residents must be involved in helping to determine new sites for street focussed services if the program is going to be accepted within the community."

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has reviewed the report supports the recommendations, and will be moving ahead with addressing the issues identified in the report.

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