Canada: Needle Exchange Came Too Late -- Cushman
May 18, 2005
Dr. Robert Cushman, city medical officer of health, said Ottawa's reluctance to give intravenous drug users (IDUs) clean needles and syringes in the late 1980s is the main reason the city has more IDUs with HIV and hepatitis C than Toronto, which adopted needle exchange in 1989. Ottawa waited until 1991 to give out clean needles and syringes.
Cushman said the delay only partly explains the current high levels of infectious disease among Ottawa IDUs, pointing to the early program limitations: strict rules and a limited number of needles for distribution.
Of an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 IDUs in Ottawa, 21 percent have HIV and 76 percent have hepatitis C, according to Dr. Lynne Leonard, professor and research scientist at the University of Ottawa.
Paul Lavigne, coordinator of Ottawa Public Health's harm reduction program, said Ottawa's late start with needle exchange and the program's limitations helped make the city second only to Vancouver in the number of IDUs with hepatitis C and HIV.
Although the needle-exchange program eventually expanded and provided more needles, Cushman said treatment and rehabilitation options for IDUs are still underfunded. He said the ongoing effort to secure resources to fight Ottawa's drug problem reflects the fact that downtown, where most of the problem is centered, is under-represented in the council chamber.
Ottawa adopted an integrated drug strategy last week, aiming to bring city officials, the police, public health and other community leaders together to combat the problem with a unified approach. The strategy followed an intense debate between Ottawa Police Chief Vince Bevan and Cushman regarding the city's crack pipe distribution program, which began giving out crack pipes and other paraphernalia April 1 to stem the spread of disease among users who share pipes.
05.16.05; Carly Weeks
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.