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International News

Canada: Harm-Reduction Report Critical of Mayor

June 20, 2008

Political interference with a harm-reduction program in Ottawa caused relations between the public health unit and the police to deteriorate, according to a joint report issued Tuesday by the Canadian AIDS Society and the Canadian Harm Reduction Network. That was just one finding of the report, which studied harm-reduction programs in nine medium-sized Canadian cities.

In his campaign for mayor, Larry O'Brien pledged to cancel Ottawa's Safer Crack Use Initiative and the needle distribution program. The initiative, run by the city's public health unit, gives crack users kits containing paraphernalia to help prevent infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, plus educational and counseling materials. Last summer, over the objections of public health officials, O'Brien led the city council in a vote that canceled the project's funding.

"As a result of the mayor's political interference, relations between the police service and public health have broken down and staff morale has been undermined," the report says. "However, those who lost the most are the people who smoke crack and who need the service."

The provincial AIDS bureau provided funding to continue the initiative at the Somerset West Community Health Center.

The mayor previously suggested the city's needle distribution program should only give clean needles to clients who return used needles. But Ottawa's acting chief medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy, has convinced O'Brien that the needle distribution program should not become a one-for-one exchange, saying this could increase clients' infection risk.

Levy has issued recommendations including hiring a student and a part-time trainee to collect discarded syringes; setting up a hotline residents can call to report stray needles; adding routes to the needle-patrol program; and expanding the number of needle-drop box sites.

Back to other news for June 2008

Adapted from:
Ottawa Citizen
06.18.2008; Brendan Kennedy

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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.
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