— By Brady Bateman
Drug users in Saskatchewan will soon be given a safer option for inhalation supplies after the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced they will be supplying community-based organizations (CBOs) and Saskatchewan’s provincially funded harm reduction sites with safer inhalation supplies.
Typically, items such as aluminum cans and or glass bottles, are used to create makeshift pipes, which can often lead to burns, cuts, blisters and the transmission of HIV and/or Hepatitis C.
Saskatchewan currently leads the country with the highest HIV rates and will be the eighth province to introduce safer inhalation supplies into its harm reduction programming.
Dr. Ashok Chhetri, one of the medical health officers with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said that the idea of giving out safer inhalation supplies is very similar to the practice of distributing needle supplies and will serve to reduce harm caused by street-drug use.
“In the absence of safer inhalation supplies, people were using makeshift supplies using anything possible — anything from pop cans to light bulbs,” Chhetri said. “As far as cost, we know that the cost of something like a crack smoking kit or a crystal meth pipe is about $1. The cost for HIV, per person, is about $1.3 million to treat… if we prevent one infection we are saving all of that money.”
Chhetri added the overall idea of harm reduction and giving these supplies is simply to reduce the harm addicts may inflict upon themselves and said that it does not increase substance abuse.
Safer inhalation supplies will become available at harm reduction sites within the next several months according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Currently, there are 26 fixed and three mobile provincially-funded harm reduction programs across the province.
As a part of efforts to reach as many people as possible, the Saskatchewan Health Authority will also be working to make key community-based organizations are a part of the expansion.
“Making safer inhalation supplies available through Saskatchewan’s harm reduction sites and eventually CBO’s in an important step in addressing the harms associated with crystal meth use and other drugs,” Jason Mercredi, executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, said. “We are excited that community-based organizations will play a role in this important collective effort to meaningfully address addiction issues across Saskatchewan.”
The 2016 rates for HIV in the province were more than 10 times the national average in some areas. Nearly 80 per cent of people with HIV in Saskatchewan are Indigenous.
“The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations supports an expanded approach to harm reduction,” Second Vice-Chief David Pratt said. “By reaching out with better options for people facing addictions issues, we can better spread the message that there are opportunities in the health care system for treatment and eventual recovery.”
The province of Saskatchewan spends more than $46 million annually on a wide range of addiction services.