Sask. distributing safe inhalation supplies to drug users in an effort to reduce HIV

With the highest HIV rates in the country, AIDS advocates say the province’s latest initiative in harm reduction is a huge win.


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Drug users in Saskatchewan will soon be given safe supplies to inhale substances instead of having to use makeshift pipes from glass bottles or aluminum cans which lead to cuts, burns or blisters and the transmission of HIV and/or hepatitis C.

“What we’re doing is increasingly recognizing this as a health problem and not criminalize it but rather addressing health issue,” said Dr. Peter Butt, an addictions  specialist with the Saskatchewan Health Authority in Saskatoon.

Saskatchewan is playing a bit of catch up with the rest of the country. The announcement made Thursday, makes the province the eighth to incorporate safer inhalation supplies in its harm reduction programming. Other jurisdictions have been distributing the kits of years.

“When people come in for the needle exchange they (frontline workers) can give them the option,” said Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter.

According to Reiter, the plan will be rolled out over the next couple months. He did not have specifics about how many kits or devices would be made available or which community based organization or provincially funded harm reduction sites would have them.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili called the initiative positive, but had lingering questions about how this would work.

“What’s concerning about this is they’re giving no new resources so are they taking away from counselling resources or clean needles and now putting into inhalation?”

According to Meili, Naxolone kits in Saskatoon have been snatched up three times more than what was budgeted for this year and there’s still too many variables still up in the air.

“That’s really an extremely vague announcement and not particularly impressive for somebody who today is at risk, today is using and today needs that support.”

AIDS Saskatoon sees the supplies as a great step forward for the province, since it gives drug users an alternative to injecting drugs. In Saskatchewan, the predominate cause of HIV transmission and skyrocketing rates is IV drug use.

“We have the highest rates in the country as we have had over a decade,” said AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi.

According to Mercredi, every case of HIV costs the health care system an estimated $1.2 million dollars so the cost avoidance by giving out these kits could be massive.

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