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Health Unit Looking For Additional Cash For Needle Exchange Program After Province Reduces Funding

KAWARTHA LAKES-In 2019 the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit distributed more than 285,000 needles as part of the Needle Exchange Program (NEP).

Officials say the development of the local Needle Exchange Program dates back to 1997, when PARN and Trent University completed a research project entitled “Developing a Response to the Emerging HIV Crisis.”  This research was specifically focused on creating a rural response to HIV infection as it related to injection drug use in the four counties of Peterborough, Victoria (now Kawartha Lakes), Northumberland and Haliburton. As a result, the Four Counties Needle Exchange Coalition was formed and operated between 1998 – 2007. Partner agencies involved in this coalition included PARN, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Women’s Health Care Centre (Peterborough Regional Health Centre), Elizabeth Fry Society, Four Counties Addiction Services Team, and the Peterborough County-City Health Unit. These agencies provided in-kind staffing hours and resources to ensure the effectiveness of this program according to the health unit.  

In 2006, the provincial government created the Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program (OHRDP). It mandates public health units – like HKPRDHU – to deliver needle exchange programs and provide the necessary equipment to prevent the spread of bloodborne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

“The NEP in the City of Kawartha Lakes is an example of a harm reduction program. Harm reduction programs are shown to be effective because they help to reduce the risk of more serious problems,” said Catherine MacDonald, the Health Unit’s Substances and Harm Reduction Coordinator. “Simple examples of harm reduction include buckling up with a seatbelt, wearing a bike helmet, or putting on sunscreen to protect against sunburn.”

In the HKPR Health Unit region, the NEP is known as Harm Reduction Works. HKPRDHU delivers it in partnership with PARN. Officials say Harm Reduction Works aims to reduce the spread of bloodborne pathogens by providing a multi-site program that:

            • Supplies clean needles and other harm reduction equipment.
            • Provides safe disposal of used needles. 

“Harm reduction programs are part of a comprehensive approach (along with treatment, counselling, and support) to address substance use. It is an investment in saving health care and treatment costs over the long-run and in preventing the spread of serious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C that can occur with sharing or reuse of equipment used to inject or to inhale drugs. It is a much safer and cost-effective option than people who use drugs putting themselves and others at risk by reusing equipment.” MacDonald told Kawartha 411.

Harm Reduction Works also provides education to clients about the safe use and disposal of needles and equipment and provides referrals for treatment and health care. Of the 285,237 needles handed out, 235,307 needles were returned – an 82% rate of return according to the health unit.

“In supplying new needles and equipment through NEPs, it’s also essential to provide safe and proper disposal options. This part is done by letting people return or exchange their used needles at the NEP, and outside of program hours, promoting other locales for safe disposal such as the needle disposal kiosks. It ensures that more used needles are properly disposed and do not pose a risk to area residents.” MacDonald states.

In City of Kawartha Lakes, the following sites operate as NEP locations:

    • Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit offices
    • OATC Lindsay 
    • FourCAST 
    • Remedy’s RX on Kent
    • Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
    • PARN (through its outreach program)

Health Officials in Peterborough have recently moved to expand the harm reduction program to include a safe injection site. At this point in time, there are no plans to further expand into safe injection sites in Kawartha Lakes.

“COVID-19 has emphasized the need to ‘meet people where they are.’ Through HKPRDHU’s partnership with other agencies – including the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (PARN), Green Wood Coalition and the John Howard Society – outreach efforts during the pandemic have been enhanced to meet these needs.” explained MacDonald.

The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit has requested an additional 10% ($200,000) this year to make up for a decrease in provincial cost-sharing. The funding for mandatory health programs has changed from a provincial-municipal cost-sharing model of 75-25% to 70-30%. Dr. Gemmill, Acting Medical Officer of Health, explained to council recently that the services provided range from protection, prevention and promotion, supporting expectant mothers to students and people with lower incomes.

The program costs approximately $35,000 per year.  With the reduction in funding, officials are asking for approximately $10,500 which would be split between the City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County and Northumberland County.

“These are the three ‘obligated’ municipalities that help pay a portion of the Health Unit’s programs and services each year,” said MacDonald.

Some councillors expressed concern over the increased downloading of funding.

“This is another thing the province is downloading onto the municipal taxpayers.” Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan stated. “I understand the importance of it and of course we will support paying the additional costs but when does it stop?

In April 2019, the mayors of more than two dozen of Ontario’s largest cities complained about the province’s downloading, saying the government was passing on costs that were forcing municipalities to weigh tax hikes or service cuts.

The Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario released a statement saying then that municipalities were learning of funding cuts and the province reducing its cost-share in programs in “piecemeal fashion” through letters to agencies, and after municipal budgets have already been passed.

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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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