The Hamilton Spectator

Paramedics now distributi­ng sterile drug-use equipment


Hamilton paramedics began distributi­ng harm-reduction kits filled with supplies this month in a citywide bid to soften the spiralling opioid crisis and prevent substance misuse.

The free kits — launched in partnershi­p with public health Feb. 1 — include needles, alcohol swabs, sterile water, glass stems and cookers, all tools conducive to safely injecting or inhaling a drug.

“This initiative will significan­tly increase access and availabili­ty in order for vulnerable community members to reduce the harms associated with substance use,” Melissa Biksa, the city’s manager of mental well-being and substance use, said in a statement.

The evidence-based pilot comes as opioid overdoses continue to mount in the city, according to city statistics.

Local paramedics responded to 78 suspected opioid overdose calls in January — up significan­tly from 48 and 54 over the same period in 2022 and 2021, and more than double the 33 recorded in 2020.

In December 2021 — after a year that saw Hamilton experience a record-high 165 opioid deaths — paramedics began giving users naloxone kits to share awareness about how the life-saving medication can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Supt. Dave Thompson of the Hamilton Paramedic Service said the new harmreduct­ion initiative was an obvious extension to the naloxone rollout and its overall goal of protecting users.

“This program is about providing robust harm-reduction strategies and trying to reduce those overdose deaths through naloxone kits as well as sterile consumptio­n supplies,” he said in an interview Friday.

Blood-borne, respirator­y and skin infections stemming from the use of used needles or inhalation supplies can lead to diseases, hospitaliz­ation and even death, according to a public health memo sent to city staff Jan. 30, which emphasized reducing the stigma around accessing harm-reduction tools as another motivator behind the new initiative.

“We want users to have sterile equipment every time they use, and this helps prevent the sharing of needles and the reusing of needles,” said Thompson. “Ultimately, the goal is to help reduce the spread of infections and diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV.”

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