The Grey Bruce Health Unit will be reopening the GB Works Needle Syringe Program site at its Owen Sound headquarters on March 14. Public health closed it in December as a surge in COVID-19 cases required staff to be redeployed to assist with case and contact management.

“The services provided extend beyond needle syringe exchange. This is a place where people check-in with qualified staff, who build relationships with clients and can connect them with other resources in the community,” says Katie Cuillerier, the program manager overseeing the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s harm reduction programs.

The GB Works Needle Syringe Program has 16 locations in Grey-Bruce.

The 15 partner sites, including three other locations in Owen Sound – Safe ‘n Sound, the Owen Sound IDA Pharmacy and the Addiction Treatment Centre at 1050 2nd Ave. E. – continued to operate throughout the pandemic. The needle syringe program provides free and confidential services -  providing sterile needles, alcohol swabs, filters, sterile water, tourniquets and cookers. Steroid injection and safer smoking equipment are also available.

Other services include safe disposal of used needles, Hepatitis A & B vaccinations, blood-borne infection testing and sexually transmitted infection testing. Sites also provide information on safer injections, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis education, Naloxone education and distribution and referrals to other services when requested.

The number of visits, or interactions, to the needle syringe program sites climbed by 25 per cent from 2020 to 2021, with 3,901 interactions across all sites in 2020 and 4,864 interactions in 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of needles returned at all sites rose by nine per cent, from 49,025 in 2020 to 53,421 in 2021.

The principle of harm reduction helps to ensure that people who use substances are treated with respect and without stigma, and that substance-related problems and issues are addressed systemically.

Goals of the program include:

- Helping to reduce fatal overdoses in the community;

- Encouraging safe disposal of needles and other supplies;

- Reducing the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and other pathogens amongst people who use drugs.

There has been a steady increase in opioid-related harms in Ontario for more than a decade, according to Public Health Ontario data. More than 2,400 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes in 2020 alone.

In Grey-Bruce, opioid-related harms and deaths are on the rise from 34 ER visits in 2014 to 108 in 2020, and from 4 deaths in 2015 to 26 in 2020. Numbers for 2021 are not yet confirmed.

As part of the local harm reduction program, public health has also installed bright-yellow outdoor sharps disposal kiosks at Carney’s Lane in downtown Owen Sound and outside of the health unit building.

source: media release, GBHU




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