Safer inhalation equipment to be added to harm reduction sites in Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has an upgrade planned for its harm reduction program, which is intended to prevent addicts who inhale drugs from contracting dangerous diseases.

Officials with the health region said they are working to provide safer inhalation supplies through community-based organizations and Saskatchewan’s harm reduction sites according to a press release issued last Thursday.

The harm reduction sites aim to reduce the risks associated with the use of drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop using them. It focuses on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself. They provide clean needles in an attempt to stop drug users from sharing dirty needles, which puts them at risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C.

The new inhalation equipment will strengthen this focus by providing addicts with an alternative method to injection. Drug users who make their own pipes made from materials such as glass bottles and aluminum cans are at risk of getting cuts, burns, blisters and open sores. These injuries also have the ability to transmit dangerous diseases when shared.

Dr. Ashok Chhetri – Saskatchewan’s Medical Health Officer – said that the province is not the first to implement these upgrades.

“Currently, seven provinces across Canada have incorporated safer inhalation supplies into their harm reduction programming,” said Chhetri in the press release. “There is evidence from those jurisdictions that suggest that these supplies reduce the risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C.”

Although the program will be beneficial for those suffering from the addictions, some residents are upset it will now cost more money. The harm reduction sites that are managed by the Saskatchewan Health Authority are funded by the province. According to its 2017-2018 report, the authority spent more than $46 million on addictions services.

Shonte Hill is a Regina resident who supports the idea of helping addicts, but believes the province should be spending the money on programs aiming to stop the use of drugs instead of continuing it.

“I believe if we want to combat the issue we need to do something more,” Hill said. “We need to give them help and incentive to go into a rehab facility and see them through. Let’s help people with addictions and mental health issues, not enable them.”

There are currently 26 fixed and three mobile provincially-funded harm reduction programs across Saskatchewan. Safe inhalation supplies can be expected to become available at all harm reduction sites within the next few months, according to the health region.

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