A trio of councillors want drug users to turn in dirty needles before getting clean ones from the city to stop the spread of discarded needles, but Ottawa’s top public health official says stopping the spread of infection rates should be the priority.
A motion put forward at the Community and Protective Services meeting yesterday by councillors Shad Qadri, Eli El-Chantiry and Bob Monette challenges public health to explain why Ottawa does not have a “one-for-one” policy that requires a dirty needle be exchanged for a clean one.
“I believe one of the best solutions to the problem of needles in the city is to go to a one-for-one exchange,” said Monette, the Orleans ward councillor. “We’re asking for a full report on the needle exchange right now. Why would the one-for-one not work?”
But Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Salisbury said he’s convinced Ottawa is doing what best practice dictates.
“The issue is needle pick-up. It’s also well known that it’s driven by whatever the drug of abuse is. In this city, it’s crack cocaine,” he said. “Crack cocaine users go through an awful lot of needles.”
Monette said he’s not satisfied that the current system is better than a straight exchange. “We always talk about harm reduction for the drug users, but I guess my question … is, what about harm reduction to the rest of the community?”
When a downtown resident can collect buckets of discarded drug paraphernalia off city streets near his home, then the system has a problem, Monette said.
Salisbury said he’s concerned emotion rather than logic is dictating some of the discussion surrounding harm reduction policies in Ottawa.