QUESNEL - The Mayor of Quesnel is taking aim at one arm of harm reduction that he says is placing undue hardship on that community.
"First off, people want to misconstrue what I am saying is that I am against addicts, I'm against harm reduction and I'm against the workers who do that work. I'm not. That's not the point that I am making," says Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson. "The point I am making is, when you're taking that approach and you're not seeing results, you're seeing more addicts, you're seeing more overt drug use on our streets in all of our communities, you're seeing more crime related to feeding that addiction and you're seeing more of the kind of activity that's taking away from the investments that you're making in your community, taking away from being a safe and secure community, I think we have the right to step back and say 'Is the harm reduction approach working for everyone?' Or are we doing something that is more enabling and growing the problem than actually solving the problem?"
But Northern Health defends the harm reduction as a tool to lessen the risk to those who cannot undergo treatment.
"The other side of the coin is that, without [harm reduction] what's the harm to those individuals? That, to me, is what I'm very concerned about. Caring for individuals who living with drug addiction," says Dr. Sandra Allison, Chief Medical Health Officer. "Prior to needle distribution programs, the rates of HIV and Hep C were much higher. So we know the effectiveness of the distribution of needles in the decrease of communicable diseases.
But Simpson says as a Mayor, he can't be that selective in who he has to service.
"We have an obligation as a Council for the entire community. We have an obligation to the citizens in the community to build a safe and secure environment. And yet, every time I ask questions about harm reduction, the activists come at us as if the only community we should be concerned about is the addicted community."
He says needle distribution programs are "an easy way out" for government and only services to send a message that the drug addicted are "unredeemable." Rather, more emphasis needs to be put on treatment and recovery. Dr. Allison admits, there is room to improve access to the latter two areas.
"In fact, we are working on strengthening addiction services across the province. This is a problem everywhere across the province, particularly in rural and remote settings. So that's something we're working on in Northern Health."
She adds another important pillar is prevention.
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