By Schnarr, J.W. on July 10, 2018.
Health officials share input on city’s drug crisis
Close to 200 people attended a public meeting held by the City in order to learn more about the opioid crisis and harm-reduction strategies in the city.
The meeting took place Monday night at Lethbridge College and featured a number of experts on the subject of opioid addiction as well as council members and representatives from the City’s police and fire/EMS services.
Topics included the history of the opioid crisis, what is happening at the federal, provincial, and local level to address the crisis, and how needle exchange programs are being used – as well as why they are being used.
Dr. Nick Etches, a Medical Officer of Health for Alberta Health Services, said while it is important to stay away from needle debris, the risk of contracting a bloodborne disease from a discarded needle is very low.
“Generally speaking, the infectious risks for needles found in the community is much less than we see with occupational needlesticks, for example,” he said. “Sunlight and other environmental conditions degrade viruses that are living in the needles.”
It is also important to remember than a number of diseases that could be contracted are diseases people can be vaccinated for.
“It’s really important to get your kids immunized,” he said.
Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and Co-Chair of the Minister’s Opioid Response Commission, said the evidence is clear that needle distribution programs work to fight HIV transmission, and that they reduce other negative behaviours and can have a positive impact on the community.
“They encourage proper syringe disposal,” she said. “They also help connect a vulnerable group of people to different health-care services.
“They are an important component of any substance use response in our community.”
She said the opioid crisis is a very complex issue and, as such, there is no single strategy that will work effectively on its own. Instead, a wide level of involvement with all stakeholders is required.
“We need a variety of different solutions that are implemented altogether,” she said. “That’s why this crisis has been so difficult to address. There really isn’t a single solution. There’s many things that need to happen.”
The opening of the supervised consumption site has shifted some of the responses off the shoulders of emergency responders, but, at the same time, Deputy Fire Chief Dana Terry said the issue is being dealt with on a daily basis still.
“Whenever anyone is under the influence of drugs, they’re not themselves, and, certainly it presents a risk for our staff,” he said.
Police will often respond to overdose calls alongside medical responders in order to ensure a safe environment.
Terry said as calls increase, close attention will be paid to whether they are interfering with the level of service EMS and the fire department are expected to provide.
“If we’re finding they are being utilized too much and not available to take the next call, then we will be having those discussions with AHS.
“We’re a contracted service with Alberta, so we would have to discuss when to add EMS resources.”
Shannon Degraaf was in attendance as part of a group called Moms Stop the Harm. The group includes Canadian mothers who have come together for support as families who have lost loved ones to substance abuse or are currently dealing with those issues within their families.
She said the group is pushing for more compassion for those dealing with drug issues.
“There’s not a lot of (compassion) out there,” she said. “We’re trying to stop the stigma so people will come forward and admit they have a problem and get help before it’s too late.”
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