Canada: Ottawans Upset About Needle-Exchange Program
April 25, 2008
At a public meeting Tuesday, residents and activists from Lowertown expressed frustration with Ottawa's needle program. The neighborhood is regarded as one of the worst-affected by illegal drug use. At the meeting, some residents told city and provincial officials that the program exposes children to harm and gives drug users the means to kill themselves.
An ideal program would be an exchange, where drug users would receive one sterile needle for every used needle they brought in, said Mayor Larry O'Brien. Treatment conditions should be attached, and counseling and neighborhood safety should be considered, he said. While these issues are up to Ontario to decide, the provincial and Ottawa governments are communicating, he said.
At another meeting that day, the city's outgoing medical officer of health, Dr. David Salisbury, called for less emotional rhetoric when it comes to addressing drugs. "The degree of fear and concern probably outweighs the actual risk," he told an Ottawa health advisory committee. "There needs to be some degree of public education. But the more we reassure, the more problems we get into."
A proposal of one-for-one needle exchange by some councilors is impractical, Salisbury said. And provincial money for collecting discarded needles probably is not forthcoming, since it would require a 25 percent contribution from the city. In addition, Ottawa officials' continued public campaign against the provincially funded needle program probably has not won it many allies in Ontario's government, he said.
04.23.2008; Thulasi Srikanthan, Katie Daubs