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New pilot-project looks to reduce discarded needles, increase education

Community volunteers in Cambridge have begun collecting used needles amid growing concerns about injection drug use in the area. Discarded syringes are seen in an October 2017 handout photo in Cambridge, Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Mary Jane Sherman

A new pilot-project looks to address the amount of discarded needles locally, and connect vulnerable drug users with services and supports.

It’s called ‘WINS’ — which stands for ‘Working to Improve Neighbourhood Safety.’

The effort is through a partnership with ROW Public Health, The City of Cambridge, and the Sanguen Health Centre.

Violet Umanetz is Manager of Outreach, Education, and Prevention at Sanguen, and explains what ‘WINS’ actually is.

“Peer workers, so people with lived experience with substance-use, will be proactively out in the community looking for and disposing of harm reduction supplies. While they’re out there, they’ll also provide education to people who use drugs, but also to the community in general — all about safe disposal.”

Umanetz adds they’ll also be able create connections between drug-users and some of the social services available across the City.

“Across the board it’s a community effort. I think when we’re looking at the opioid crisis as a whole, one of the things that we have to do is look at what we’ve been doing, what we can do, and what the future holds. Some of that is easy for us to determine, and some of that will take some creativity on the part of everyone in our community.”

When it comes to stigma around drug users and addicts, Umanetz says it’s not right, as people who use drugs are part of our community.

“They’re not from somewhere else, they are people that have lived here — in many cases — their entire lives. For us to have compassion, to try to understand, to educate ourselves and each other about what substance-use and addiction look like — all of those pieces are really important to being an inclusive community.”

If you come across a discarded needle — you still need to contact Public Health, but WINS workers are already out on Cambridge streets.

“They’re just starting to do their training, and discover which routes will be most appropriate to cover. So in the next couple of weeks, we’re anticipating having the program fully launched — so they’ll be up and running, and doing the job.”

The innovative community project will run in Cambridge for a year, before the region evaluates it to understand its effectiveness.