Agassiz to get needle exchange
Drug users in Agassiz will soon have access to clean needles and drug paraphernalia following the District of Kent's approval of a mobile harm reduction site.
The old highways yard at 6950 Cheam Avenue has been set aside for a non-descript blue Dodge Caravan that will be equipped with medical supplies, needles, condoms, cookers, water, food and harm reduction pamphlets for drug users. "We're introducing the concept of changing drug habits," Kim Lloyd, Pacific Community Resource's HIV/Hep C mobile site program coordinator said. "The program's main focus is to get to know clients in the area."
Lloyd estimates that Agassiz has a drug user population of 50 to 75 people. The numbers were large enough for her to bring the mobile harm reduction concept to district council. The site was approved by all but one council member and should be in use the first week of September Lloyd said.
The plan is to have the van sit at the Cheam Avenue location for 1 1/2 hours, one day a week. Currently Agassiz drug users make their way to Chilliwack for needle exchanges and medical care.
But like some people in Agassiz, district councillor Holger Schwichtenberg wasn't even aware there was a drug use issue in town. And though Schwichtenberg was away on vacation when the vote occurred he said he's in favour of the mobile harm reduction site. "You can't hide from the problem," he said. Lloyd agreed and said the drug user problem simply won't go away if it isn't addressed. However not everyone's as enthused of the harm reduction concept as Lloyd is though it's agreed the issue needs to be dealt with.
Local independent businesswoman Debra Cornish said if the harm reduction site contributes to the overall health of the community then it's needed. But she also regrets the necessity for such a service. "I hate it but there's no getting around it," she said.
The mobile harm reduction site concept is meant to be unobtrusive and discreet and it's hoped that it'll reduce any challenges Agassiz faces with it's drug user population. "What happens to needles if someone can't make it to Chilliwack?" Lloyd asked. Fewer needles and used condoms on city streets and sidewalks and a reduced transient population are issues that can be assessed once the mobile harm reduction site's been in use for a while.
"I'm a firm believer that everyone should be treated with dignity," Lloyd said. "The most unfair treatment users get is that they want to be there."