A needle exchange van now touring the Tri-Cities will to travel into Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge to serve clients.
Staffed and operated by the Purpose Society of New Westminster, the health van began making visits to Port Moody, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam in June and has already built a clientele within each of the cities.
Drug users and those in need of health or hygienic supplies such as condoms, bandages and alcohol swabs can call the van’s mobile phone or visit wherever they see it parked to pick up clean needles, crack-pipe mouthpieces and sterilized water to help prevent the spread of blood-born diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, common among drug users.
Purpose Society program co-ordinator Michelle Webb, who oversees the van’s operations, said the van is funded to travel into Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, but has yet to receive calls from any clients.
Alouette Addictions in Maple Ridge runs a needle distribution program from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the van could fill the need on weekends.
Since it took over the program from Fraser Health’s public health unit three years ago, Alouette Addictions has seen demand increase from a few hundred syringes to 5,000 distributed every three months.
Most clients learn about the service through word-of-mouth.
“We are quite busy when you think about the small Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows community,” said Alouette executive director Darryl Lucas.
Studies have shown that needle-exchange programs help to dramatically reduce HIV and Hepatitis C incidence rates among injecting drug users.
Unfortunately, some people will share needles if clean ones are not available, so the spread of disease becomes rampant, Lucas said.
The exchange also serves as a point of first contact between health services and addicts.
At Alouette, staff refer them to detox and rehabilitation programs, counselling or methadone clinics.
“We are that contact so they can get the help and services that they truly need,” said Lucas.
For a while, an outreach worker, funded by B.C. Housing, also ran an informal needle exchange out of the back of her car.
Rodney Baker, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Simon Fraser branch, said the outreach worker currently has around 170 clients in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.
Of those, 67 per cent have addictions issues.
– with files from Todd Coyne of the Tri-City News.
• The Purpose Society health van currently visits the Tri-Cities on Monday and Thursday mornings, Friday and Saturday evenings and anytime by request at 604-562-5170.
• For information on Alouette Addictions services, call 604-467-5179 or visit them online at www.alouetteaddictions.org.