A new report by the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research (CARBC) reveals that Victoria’s drug users continue to share dirty needles after the closure of the city’s only needle-exchange facility.
About 400 people a month used the facility, which opened more than 20 years ago. In May 2008, the needle-exchange was evicted from its downtown location after months of complaints from businesses and residents about noise, crime, garbage and human waste on the two-block street on which it was located.
CARBC’s report on patterns of substance use among street-involved injecting drug users finds that rates of needle sharing have remained significantly higher in Victoria than Vancouver over the past three years. By late 2009, 23 per cent of injection drug users interviewed in Victoria reported needle sharing compared with only eight per cent in Vancouver. Also by late 2009, 89 per cent of Victoria respondents injected daily or more often compared with 29 per cent in Vancouver.
Study co-author Andrew Ivsins is a UVic sociology graduate student and a research assistant at CARBC. “The closure of the fixed site needle exchange in May 2008 and the subsequent 15,000 fewer clean needles distributed each month in Victoria since then likely explain these results.” He also notes that Vancouver has several fixed site needle exchanges located throughout the metropolitan area.
The report, Drug Use Trends in Victoria and Vancouver, is available online at http://carbc.ca/Portals/0/PropertyAgent/2111/Files/299/CARBC_Bulletin6.pdf. It recommends reinstating at least one fixed site needle exchange in Victoria as part of a comprehensive range of services to maintain the health of injecting drug users and to minimize the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. For the same reasons, provision of clean crack pipes is recommended as one response to the high prevalence of crack cocaine use, an increasing trend in cities across Canada.
“Frequent injection drug use is significantly increasing in Victoria and decreasing in Vancouver. These opposite trends may have been worsened by the closure of the needle exchange in Victoria,” says study co-author Dr. Scott Macdonald, CARBC assistant director.
Several significant trends in drug use were noted among injection drug users in the Victoria and Vancouver samples. In Victoria, both marijuana and cocaine use has been decreasing while ecstasy use has been increasing; use of these same substances in Vancouver has not changed significantly. In Vancouver, use of crystal meth has been decreasing whereas methadone and crack use has been increasing; in Victoria, use of crystal meth, methadone and crack has not changed significantly.
The study is part of an ongoing surveillance exercise in both cities covering several high-risk populations of substance users. Since the fall of 2007, up to 160 illicit drug users have been sampled in Victoria and Vancouver every six months. See www.AODmonitoring.ca for further data on substance use in BC.