The Hamilton Spectator

A harm-reduction vending machine could be on the horizon for Brantford-Brant

Our Healthbox is one of 18 strategies outlined in Drug Strategy Action Plan for tackling local opioid crisis

- CELESTE PERCY-BEAUREGARD LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER CELESTE PERCY-BEAUREGARD’S REPORTING IS FUNDED BY THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT THROUGH ITS LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE. THE FUNDING ALLOWS HER TO REPORT ON STORIES ABOUT BRANT COUNTY. REACH HER AT C

A harm-reduction vending machine may be coming soon to Brantford as part of an action plan from local stakeholde­rs looking to address the opioid crisis in both communitie­s.

The machine — called Our Healthbox — dispenses health informatio­n and items like HIV selftestin­g kits, naloxone and other harm-reduction supplies to vulnerable population­s, and is accessible after-hours.

Putting harm-reduction supplies within easier reach — particular­ly in Brant County — is a key objective of the Brantford-Brant Drug Strategy Action Plan for 2024.

The plan provides a road map for addressing high-priority initiative­s identified by the community drugs strategy co-ordinating committee, made up of public health agencies, municipal organizati­ons, and community and social service providers.

While rates of opioid-related fatalities continue to climb nationwide, Brantford-Brant continues to trend well above the provincial average.

In 2023, Ontario averaged around 24 suspected opioid-related deaths per capita, while Brantford-Brant averaged around 38. In the same time frame, the rate of provincial emergency department (ED) visits for opioid overdoses was 82 per capita, while Brantford-Brant averaged around 169 per capita, according to the action plan.

“The factors that drive those rates are extremely complicate­d,” Alyssa Stryker, drugs strategy co-ordinator for Brant County Health Unit (BCHU), told the Spectator.

“It’s almost certainly a combinatio­n of a variety of different factors working in tandem,” she added, pointing to the area’s struggles with social determinan­ts of health, a need for increased service capacity, and the unpredicta­bility and potency of the illicit drug supply.

Locals are also contending with additional drug-related consequenc­es, such as skin and soft tissue infections — a leading driver of drug-related visits to the ED — disease transmissi­on, littered drug parapherna­lia, and “the far-reaching negative effects of stigma on both people who use drugs and their families and friends,” according to the action plan.

The committee hopes wider access to harm-reduction tools will help reduce the negative impacts of drug use for people who use — and the community as a whole, the action plan says.

Currently, the local AIDS Network Van receives about 115 monthly calls across the Brantford-Brant area, according to the organizati­on.

The service confidenti­ally delivers items like sterile syringes, cookers and naloxone, and is the only place individual­s can access the full spectrum of harm reduction tools in the county, Stryker said.

The committee is looking for county partners to carry additional harm-reduction supplies, with an emphasis on places that are “accessible and low barrier to people who use drugs, and whose staff are committed to providing services in a stigma-free way,” Stryker said.

Another key initiative outlined in the plan involves bringing safer supply — medication­s that can be prescribed by a nurse practition­er or family physician, as an alternativ­e to street drugs — to the county and Six Nations.

These prescripti­ons like methadone, Kadian, and Sublocade, can help with withdrawal­s and cravings, and pain management, Katharine O’Connell, program manager at Grand River Community Health Centre (GRCHC), told The Spectator.

O’Connell said safer supply can improve physical wellness and emotional regulation, reduce risky behaviour such as sex work or selling substances, and reduce fatalities and overdose-related ED visits.

Some of the additional initiative­s in the action plan include:

Expanding access to drug checking services

Last year, BCHU piloted a fentanyl test strip distributi­on program, giving individual­s who use the ability to check their drugs for the opioid.

While helpful for folks who believe they are purchasing nonopioid drugs, Stryker said many folks buying an illicit opioid are likely purchasing fentanyl knowingly.

“Many people would prefer to be purchasing heroin if available, but it’s just not an option anymore,” Stryker said.

Work this year will include reviewing the results of the pilot to see if an ongoing program would be beneficial, as well as piloting xylazine test strips.

The nonopioid tranquilli­zer has been contaminat­ing the illicit opioid supply, and has been associated with skin and soft tissue infections, as well as heavy sedation, according to the action plan.

Starting a Drug Treatment Court (DTC)

The committee is seeking a judge to oversee a program that would allow applicable individual­s with low-level criminal drug-related offences to enter a treatment program rather than going through the typical court process.

In this situation, a dedicated treatment provider works alongside the court, the crown and other DTC members, to support participan­ts in graduating from the program, Nathalie Houle, spokespers­on for the Public Prosecutio­n Service of Canada, told The Spectator.

Continued work toward a CTS site

Although the province has paused applicatio­ns for consumptio­n and treatment services sites, the CTS Working Group will continue planning and working on the public awareness and education involved in opening a site in Brantford.

However, even once applicatio­ns reopen, it will still be “quite a long road ahead before any site in Brantford would open to the public,” Stryker said, pointing to the challenge of finding a suitable location, and the extensive community engagement process that follows.

 ?? THE AIDS NETWORK PHOTO ?? Low-barrier access to items like individual­ly packaged syringes, naloxone, cookers and alcohol wipes help to reduce the negative impacts of drug use for community members that use — and the larger community, according to the 2024 Brantford-Brant Drug Strategy Action Plan.
THE AIDS NETWORK PHOTO Low-barrier access to items like individual­ly packaged syringes, naloxone, cookers and alcohol wipes help to reduce the negative impacts of drug use for community members that use — and the larger community, according to the 2024 Brantford-Brant Drug Strategy Action Plan.

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