The Northwestern Health Unit hosted an information session in Kenora last night to educate the public on their Harm Reduction program and to hear the community’s questions and concerns.

The evening began with three presentations on facts, figures, and how the Health Unit runs its programs.

The big concern was the Needle Exchange Program which is mandated through the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and has been in practise in the Kenora area since the 90’s.

The aim of the program is to limit the spread of blood born illnesses such as HIV in the region.

The program is also common across Canada, and globally.

One common misconception is that the program is a 1:1 exchange which it is not. The Health Unit encourages the return of needles, but it’s not required to receive needles and other drug equipment.

Following the presentations, many in attendance voiced that they understood the importance of the program in protecting the community from blood born illnesses. However, they felt the number of needles that can often be found throughout the community, that are improperly disposed of, is still an issue that needs to be solved.

One community member had this to say during the question and comment period.

“The feedback that I got private messaged is that people won't even use the beaches and parks. They'll go to Falcon Lake or Rushing River. That's people saying they don't want to use those things in our community. I'm here to just to make sure, like lets gets a plan. Lets pay a position, lets do something. So that something is actually being done. I don't see how you can possibly keep up with everything as it is, with everything that you do. I don't want to sit here and let things get heated, I want to actually talk about solutions," he said.

Many in attendance shared the sentiments.

The Health Unit representatives mentioned that they would welcome feedback, ideas, and help in coming up with a better system to collect the discarded needles.

According to the latest stats, the Health Unit distributed 239,976 needles in the last year and had 161,239 returned. On the other hand, the outreach program provided by the Health Unit that will drive around town and visit clients, distributed 42,650 needs and received back 109,315.

Many wondered if a buy back program would solve the issue, and the Health Unit acknowledged it was something they had thought about. Gillian Lunny, Manager of Sexual Health and Harm Reduction, said North Bay was trialling such a program for the month of November and the Health Unit would be watching closely to see their results.

Safe Injections Sites were also brought to the table. The Health Unit said they are very open to the idea, warning it takes a lot of bureaucratic hoop jumping to get approval. Medical Officer of Health, Dr Kit Young-Hoon also warned that a Safe Injection Site would likely only help reduce the number of needles found in the area around the site, and wouldn’t help the issue in the outlying area.

No solution was presented during the information session, but many ideas were brought to the table. The Health Unit encourages anyone who is interested in being part of the discussion to contact them.

Councillor Sharon Smith left the info session feeling optimistic.

“People were very receptive to the message. Did we change some minds? Yes, definately we did here at this meeting. Everytime we can get together and have community consultations like this we win, the community wins. The Health Unit knows there stuff, they're doing good work in our community. Our community is stepping up. I'm very pleased with the reception we had tonight," she said.

Community members who would like to know more, or want to get involved are encouraged to contact the Northwestern Health Unit.

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