Kehewin Health Services (KHS) is pioneering a new approach to addiction through the Harm Reduction Strategy. The idea behind the strategy is practical and controversial; if addicts are going to use, make sure they are using in the safest way possible. KHS is hoping to introduce two new programs, a needle exchange and a take-home preventative kit to reduce/stop overdoses.
The Harm Reduction Strategy, if approved by Chief & Council, will operate a needle exchange, the first of its kind on the reserve. At a Community Health Spring Meeting, Nurse Manager for KHS, Paul Saponara explained that some addicts aren’t ready to quit. Rather than trying to force a “just say no” philosophy, KHS is attempting to approach the growing intravenous drug problem in a new manner, by reduction the spread of disease through dirty needles. “You have to meet addicts where they’re at,” Sapanora explained at the meeting, “people are not necessarily always ready to quit, right away. What’s important is, if they’re going to continue using, they’re going to in a safe manner and limit the spread of infection.”
“Needle injection drug users can come to the health centre to get clean needles. Saying ‘no,no,no’ doesn’t work, their going to use anyways. Sharing needles will lead to spreading diseases and possibly an epidemic in our community,” Saponara explained that Chief & Council will have to sanction the program, but KHS is hohopeful to begin the program within a year. “It’s not a complex program, or anything. The addict comes in, says ‘I have a problem’ and we give him a clean needle and a Naloxone kit.”
Take-home Naloxone kits are another initiative KHS is trying through the Harm Reduction Strategy. Nurse Manager, Saponara explained, “these kits have veils of Naloxone, which is a medication that if you give it to somebody, as they are overdosing, it’ll reverse the effects of the overdose. But it has to be given, right at that moment.” It’s vital to give Naloxone at the right time, so the kits will have to be on the addicts’ person, says Saponara. KHS hopes through education and awareness of the kits availability that they will be able to save lives. “There’s no way [Naloxone] can be misused or abused,” Saponara assured. “You can’t do anything to it or add any chemical to the Naloxone to get a high; it’s completely safe.”
It’s not just the addicts that’ll need to be education, Saponara explained to the group at the Kehewin Community Centre, family members and people living in the same houses will have to know what the warning signs of an overdose are to know when to administer the Naloxone. It’s an unfortunate reality that children may be exposed to this environment, but it’s a reality KHS is aware of and will educate children on what the warning signs of an overdose are to ensure that lives can be saved. “The way I explain it to you, might not be how I explain it to children,” Saponara says the message will be tailored to the person (or child) receiving it and recognizes each prognosis and approach will be different depending on the situation and addiction.
Part of the Harm Reduction Strategy includes education for the public on what to do if needles are found on the ground in public places and measures the public can take to stay safe. KHS hopes that the needle exchange and Naloxone programs will allow health care professional the opportunity to educate addicts, on the dangers, how to quit and programs that are offered to assist in quitting; as well as if how to be safe if you are not ready to quit.