Work needed to increase drug users’ access to services, preliminary report findings suggest

More can be done to provide better access to prevention, harm reduction and treatment services for drug users and alcoholics, the city’s public health unit heard during a survey of community agencies and addicts.

Their feedback also suggests there’s work to be done to increase peer involvement, better integrate services with mental health and housing support, and expand work in schools. The feedback comes in an interim report on a “gap analysis” of programs and services that’s to go to the city’s board of health on Monday. A full report is expected later this year.

“In addition, many partners have also indicated a need for cross-sectoral collaboration with a concentrated focus on prevention and building community capacity to address harms associated (with) substance misuse,” the interim report states.

Staff conducted interviews with agencies and 100 clients from 10 places involved in the city’s needle-exchange program. The interim report was provided after board member Marguarite Keeley asked questions about harm reduction programs in Ottawa.

The public health unit uses a “four-pillar approach” to substance abuse, consisting of prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement, staff wrote in their formal response.

It’s difficult to say how many people in the city are dependent on drugs and alcohol since some hide it or might not report truthfully during surveys, while “street-involved” people are difficult to follow, the report says.

Still, there are estimates of at least 1,200 or up to 5,600 injection drug users in the city, it says, while about one-third of adult residents in 2009-2010 consumed more alcohol than what’s outlined in Canada’s low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines.

Boards of health are required under the Ontario Public Health Standards to ensure there’s access to harm reduction services so that the spread of sexually-transmitted and blood-borne infections is reduced, the report says.

“OPH educates clients on how to reduce or avoid the risk of transmission of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne pathogens by increasing awareness of the risks involved in needle sharing, other drug using behaviours, unprotected sex and alcohol abuse,” it states.

“Further, OPH will continue to engage a broad range of community partners, including members of community associations, in planning, implementing and reporting of programs and services that address substance misuse.”

By Neco Bockburn
Source: Ottawa Citizen