July 11, 2012
In Abbotsford, British Columbia, health officials are asking for a review of a 2005 zoning bylaw effectively banning all forms of harm-reduction, including needle-exchanges and safe-injection sites, in the city.
The Fraser Health Authority recently pointed to statistics showing that Abbotsford has some of the province's highest rates of overdoses as well as HIV and hepatitis C. The FHA proposal to the city council asks for a needle-exchange program phased in over several years, beginning with distribution through community organizations and eventually introducing mobile and fixed-site services. FHA also is investigating whether the city can legally enforce a bylaw that restricts a health care service.
Support still exists for the controversial bylaw. City Councilor Simon Gibson supported it in 2005 and still does today. "They [harm-reduction advocates] may be putting the interests of the addicts over and above the interests of our community. Our citizens want to see addicts turn their lives around and contribute to society, but I believe that our citizens don't want to see that rehabilitation done at the expense of the social fabric of our community."
Mayor Bruce Banman said the city council remains deeply divided on the issue, although he personally believes the bylaw should be repealed. "If you can prevent one case of AIDS and a couple of cases of hepatitis C, it would most likely pay for the entire needle-exchange program, so, financially, to me it just makes sense," he said. However, he said his support is contingent on FHA promising to increase detoxification services in the community, which is not part of the current proposal.
FHA said it is open to expanding detoxification services for Abbotsford. Currently, it provides mobile, in-home services, and Abbotsford residents who need treatment are referred to a facility in nearby Surrey.