Partnership builds rural harm reduction program

A harm-reduction program, born out of a partnership between a community health centre and local pharmacy, ensures a reduction in blood-borne-infectious diseases among intravenous-drug users.

Horizon’s Queens North Community Health Centre (QNCHC) partners with the Minto Shoppers Drug Mart, AIDS New Brunswick and community volunteers in a harm reduction program.

The health centre provides needle exchange kits and inhalation kits, which are assembled by community volunteers, and are distributed through the Minto Shoppers Drug Mart.

Isabel Camp, manager of QNCHC, said the program came about by listening to the needs of the community.

“This issue was brought to our attention by community members who were drug users, and requesting clean needles so they could be safe,” Isabel said.

Amanda Diggins, executive director of AIDS NB, said they were able to provide the support for the two programs to get underway in Minto.

“We provided support and training, and will continue that on an ongoing basis,” she said. “We’ll always be there to help with the changing needs of the community.”

The needle exchange kits include needles, alcohol swabs, sharps containers, cotton pellets, and condoms.

The inhalation kits include one glass tube, two pieces of latex (which are used to cover mouthpiece), 10 brass screens and one wooden stick.

Robin Hebert, Minto Shoppers Drug Mart owner and pharmacist said the individuals using and injecting drugs were already purchasing needles at the pharmacy.

“However, since we started distributing the free kits, through this partnership, more needles and supplies are being used,” Robin said. “This uptake leads me to believe that previously there may have been more needle sharing occurring prior to the program initiation.”

Currently, in N.B. harm reduction programs are available in major cities (Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John and Miramichi). But Isabel said residents in Minto don’t always have the ability to travel to one of the cities.

She said the most common harm reduction measure for intravenous drug users is a needle exchange program.

“Harm reduction is a pragmatic public health approach that shifts the focus away from drug use itself and rates of use, to the consequences or adverse effects of drug use,” Isabel said.

Part of the rationale for this approach is that many clients are either unable or unwilling to stop injecting.

From November 2019 to June 2020, Isabel said 355 needle exchange kits were distributed and 545 inhalation kits were distributed to clients.

“This is a snapshot picture of the utilization of the program,” she said. “By providing sterile needles and injection equipment, we can reduce the risk for blood-borne infectious disease transmission.”

“This program also provides the opportunity for people to return used products in a sharps container for safe disposal,” Robin said.

Positive outcomes associated with access to harm reduction programs:

  • Attendance at programs and increased needle availability are associated with decreases in risk (decreased needle sharing), as well as a decrease in harm (lower levels of HIV injection);
  • The availability of programs increases the likelihood that clients will become involved in treatment and prevention interventions;
  • Programs are cost-effective because they help to prevent significant health care costs incurred for the care and treatment of hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, amputations and infections at the injection’s sites and other injection drug use-related health concerns;
  • The availability of single-use, retractable needles holds the promise of making programs an even safer resource for clients; and
  • Programs reduce the number of waste syringes in the community.

Source: CATIE

Isabel Camp joined Horizon in September 1994. She has a Bachelor of Science in human ecology from the University of Prince Edward Island, and completed her dietetic internship from the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

She has worked as a dietitian and nutritionist in various roles, such as a consultant in rural Manitoba, public health in Nova Scotia and as a clinical dietitian at Horizon’s Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital with the pediatric team.

For the last 14 years she has worked in community health care (primary health care) as the manager of three facilities: Horizon’s Queens Community Health Centre, Oromocto Health Centre and Fredericton Junction Health Centre.

Isabel is very passionate about health care and the determinants of health and how these affect our health.

The village of Minto is located in the Fredericton Area, approximately 50 kilometres northeast of the city of Fredericton. Minto falls under the Grand Lake Area’s Community Health Needs Assessment.

In addition to the village of Minto, the Grand Lake Area includes the villages of Chipman, Cambridge-Narrows and 14 other communities spread across the predominantly rural region of New Brunswick.