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All In Hand

Play Ball?

Miss Vicky Sun May 4, 2008

I hear from our friends at the Elmdale Tavern that they're looking for a local softball team to sponsor....perhaps a team who plays at Laroche Park, since it's nice and close? A team who enjoys a fine beverage or two after the game?

If you think your team and the 'Dale may be a good fit, head on in and talk to Nat!

Good luck, Dr Levy

Miss Vicky Thu May 1, 2008

So Ottawa has a new acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Isra Levy. Dr Levy has been in the city's public health office for a while, working as Manager of the Surveillance, Emerging Issues, Education and Research. He is an epidemiologist who has worked on public health issues with the Canadian Medical Association. He takes on a significant challenge, not the least of which is smoothing over the rocky relationship between his office and the city's political leaders.

Well he's not an addictions specialist, so that should count in his favour. Nor is he a crusader against the cosmetic use of pesticides and other toxins. Maybe he'll be able to get Council to take their role as the local board of health a little more seriously, or at least shift the focus on to less controversial topics than, say, our programs to reduce the harm associated with illegal drug use.

He has his work cut out for him, though. Because public health and politics do not seem to be a particularly conflict-free combination in this city. Dr. Salisbury was not the first medical officer of health to come up against knee-jerk and politically-driven attitudes amongst elected officials. Robert Cushman constantly butted heads with the political powers-that-be. But unlike Dr. Salisbury, a career military physician who always seemed ill-at-ease with the public relations part of the job, Dr. Cushman was (well, is, in his continuing role at the LHIN) a better politician and public figure than many of his opponents on council. Both docs were not afraid to take strong stands when it comes to defending Ottawa's public health... Cushman just had a better bed-side manner with politicos and the media.

So, we'll see how Dr. Levy does. Because the issue of drugs and addiction has really been heating up of late. Miss Vicky has been mulling it over quite a bit. Not just because she has (twice) found herself a victim of (presumably) addicts looking for a quick buck for their next fix. No, what has Miss Vicky thinking is the success of the propaganda campaign to undermine harm reduction programs.

It started with a series of stories focusing on Lowertown citizens who have taken it upon themselves to collect the growing numbers of discarded needles in their neighbourhood. Then there were increasing references to a demand from some councillors and community groups for a one-for-one policy for the needle exchange program. Then this new group appeared, "Safer Ottawa", and they've been a presence at a few community meetings on street drugs and crime prevention. Now much of this PR has been generated by the same two people, the couple that has been picking up needles in Lowertown... the two people who have declared themselves "Safer Ottawa".

They have the support of a few (suburban) councillors as well, and it was expected that they would introduce a motion to move to a one-for-one needle exchange policy (more in another post about why this is not a good idea). Instead, a motion came to Community and Protective Services to have the Medical Officer of Health review the program:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Medical Officer of Health be directed to prepare a comprehensive report on the Needle Exchange Program, to be presented to the Community and Protective Services Committee by July 2008, incorporating the following information:
1. The detailed history of all reports on the City’s NEP, including how the reporting of the NEP was accomplished, where it was published, how the program was evaluated, including by what measures the program was evaluated against;
2. Medical evidence that demonstrates that the current best practices successfully meet the Ministry’s objectives;
3. Evidence that the current needle distribution model is more effective than a direct, one-for-one needle exchange model and evidence of any adverse effects that could be associated with a proposed change in the current needle distribution practice to a direct, one-for-one needle exchange;
4. An outline of all the areas of risk associated with a potential change of policy from the current needle distribution practice to a direct, one-for-one exchange and detail how the risk was assessed;
5. Comparisons of other large Canadian municipalities and their current harm reduction practices;
6. An analysis of the financial implications of changing the current practice to a direct, one-for-one exchange;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Community and Protective Services Committee recommends that Council, as the Board of Health, directs the Medical Officer of Health to ensure that the statistics concerning the numbers of needles distributed and retrieved annually are made available on the City of Ottawa’s website by the fall of 2008; and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the costs expended to date this year on responding to questions and information about the Needle Exchange Program and the costs to prepare the current report, be included in the July report.

Sounds relatively innocuous, but it basically sets the stage for a mid-summer battle over best practice in needle exchange programs,pitting agencies against communities and public health against public safety. Talk about your apples vs oranges. Miss Vicky suspects it is not going to be fun for agencies that are trying to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS among our drug-using population, and it does not bode well for the future of an integrated drug strategy in this city.

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