Print Edition: January 22, 2014
With an approved third reading removing the ban on local harm reduction services, Abbotsford’s city council moved one step closer toward eliminating the 2005 bylaw that prevented these facilities from running after a public hearing on January 13.
While the reaction of Abbotsford’s community has been mixed toward the removal of the harm reduction ban, Mayor Bruce Banman maintains that the bylaw’s amendment has been well thought-out and will ultimately protect those suffering with addiction, as well as the community.
“This has been in the works for a number of years … Fraser Health Authority and the Hepatitis C council of British Columbia wrote [the city] asking us to revisit this bylaw,” Banman explains. “It mainly has to do with Hepatitis C. Abbotsford has among the highest Hepatitis C rates in the province and the Fraser Health Authority felt that one of the contributing factors was the lack of a needle exchange program.”
While there are benefits to making harm reduction services like needle exchanges available in Abbotsford, many people have expressed concerns regarding the general public’s safety with the implementation of these sites. However, Banman assures there will be many safety precautions put in place, one of which being what he calls a “good neighbour agreement.”
“Fraser Health will find providers to do the needle exchange — it may be a mobile needle exchange; it may be a specific area or areas. And let’s say there becomes a problem with that or it ends up being a negative impact on a neighbourhood,” Banman says. “To help those who are fearful of that we will put mechanisms in place so that we can work with Fraser Health Authority and the providers.”
While programs like the “good neighbour agreement” will work to maintain community safety, Banman acknowledges there will be a learning curve.
“We can learn from other communities, which we will do, but sometimes you don’t know what the concerns are until you get there,” he says. “You have to be mindful as you go through this, which is why we have a joint partnership.”
Banman also hopes that the presence of these local needle exchanges will help link those suffering with addiction to service providers equipped to begin treating them.
“Those that are struggling with drug addiction end up exchanging a needle with a health care provider or a supportive network of some kind, and they start to establish trust,” he says. “So, when they are ready to come [off] the drugs — when they’ve finally had enough — they are more likely to reach out because they have established that relationship with a service provider.”
And while these facilities will serve as a starting point, Banman asserts that there still needs to be more funding put in place by other resources like Fraser Health, if Abbotsford wants to take better care of those who are suffering with addiction.
“Fraser Health Authority spends approximately $79 per capita, which goes to treat mental illness and addictions. There’s a strong correlation between mental illness and illicit drug use,” he says. “How are we supposed to deal with this problem when it’s drastically under-funded? If you’re not spending the money … how do you expect to make a dent in this problem?
“The first part of the solution is to stop infecting people,” Banman concludes. “I would say now we need to step up our campaign and help those who are mentally ill and addicted.”