This is in response to the letter of the editor entitled “Needles an epidemic,” which appeared in the Aug. 1, 2018 edition of the Fort Frances Times.
Addiction is a serious issue in Northwestern Ontario. Regional statistics show high rates of hospitalization for substances misuse, emergency department visits for alcohol misuse, and high smoking rates compared to the province.
My role as medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit allows me to travel throughout our region and speak with many of our community partners and health-care providers.
I hear often about the challenges being faced in dealing with the increasing complexity of those living with addiction. This is further complicated by high rates of homelessness and mental health issues.
The causes of addiction are complex and cannot be brought down to one cause, and are certainly not caused by the presence of needle exchange programs (NEPs).
Evidence clearly has shown that NEPs do not cause addiction, and do not increase rates of addiction or prevent people from quitting. NEPs are an effective way of preventing the spread of serious infections such as HIV.
In communities where NEPs have not existed, HIV rates have gone up due to the sharing of needles and drug preparation equipment. NEPs are globally accepted as being a key program in protecting the health of communities.
The evidence behind 1:1 exchange polices are clear. Many cities, including, Ottawa tried 1:1 exchanges in the 1990s, which led to increased HIV rates. Based on research, best practice documents, and guidance from the Ministry of Health, 1:1 exchanges are considered harmful and have not been used in decades.
Although the risk of getting an infection such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or HIV from an improperly-discarded needle is very low, the Northwestern Health Unit takes this issue seriously—and takes action to decrease the number of needles on the ground and to educate our communities about what to do if a needle is found.
Our actions include mounting outdoor sharps disposal units, providing indoor units to organizations, providing training and safe needle pick-up kits, and educating children in schools about what to do if they find a needle.
One needed correction [from the Aug. 1 letter] is that 800,000 needles were not distributed in Rainy River District in 2017. This is more than what was distributed in our entire region.
In 2017, approximately 110,000 needles were distributed in Rainy River District. I encourage everyone to ensure that they have correct and accurate information when forming decisions and opinions about NEPs.
A community forum will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. at La Place Rendez-Vous. I encourage people to attend to learn more about our program and to engage in constructive dialogue.
Dr. Kit Young Hoon,