Coun Craig Grice just about went ballistic at the idea of public money being spent on needle exchanges for drug addicts within the counties of Haldimand and Norfolk, leaping out of his seat and throwing his pen down on his desk in disgust.

He was responding to a public health presentation May 30 at Haldimand county in committee meeting.

Haldimand-Norfolk had the highest rates of prescription opioid use of all municipalities in Ontario in 2015, regional health unit staffers told council.

In addition stats show local illicit drug use in males (52.9 per 100,000) and females (36.3) compared with the province (45.6 and 34.4 respectively).

Opioid dependency can happen to almost anyone said HN public health inspector Adrienne Andrew. Someone who was prescribed opioids for pain could become addicted. If they can no longer legally obtain them, they could turn to illicit sources.

Coun. Leroy Bartlett conceded the slide from prescription use to illicit use was a strong possibility.

“My opinion on opioid use in Haldimand-Norfolk is the difficulty in timely access to hospitals for hip, knee and back surgeries. A lot of residents have to go to their family physician to cope with the pain.

“At the end of the day if the province would fund health services properly, Haldmand-Norfolk wouldn’t have to run into these problems.”

He noted he personally was prescribed oxycontin and fentanyl for five years while he was waiting for surgery for a double hip replacement. “I was left to deal with an addiction to them and had to fight through it.”

While he personally managed to get off them, he noted others addicted from long term use might not be able to without serious help.

Parallel to illicit use is a spike in associated illnesses such as hepatitis C and HIV from sharing needles while abusing intravenous drugs.

Rates of hepatitis C have been higher in HN than the province for over five years.

Public health nurse Tamara Robb discussed the health unit’s harm reduction strategies to combat the health issues, including needle syringe programs to help prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases from re-use and sharing of needles by drug addicts.

“These strategies are community-based, user-driven, non-judgmental and address the way individuals may be isolated or marginalized,” she said. “It gives them a chance to access help to get off the drugs.”

At the end of the presentation, Grice was still vehemently opposed to needle exchanges. He maintained it was wrong to enable addicts to carry on their addiction.

Incidentally, Canada is the second largest user of prescription opioids, second only to the U.S.

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