Police End Needle Distribution in 900 block (Nov 17 2010)

Times Colonist---A Pandora Avenue pharmacy has stopped distributing needles in an area frequented by drug dealing and street crime, say Victoria police.

Insp. Jamie Pearce said he's been told the Pandora Pharmacy at 922 Pandora Ave., across the street from the Our Place drop-in shelter, has agreed to stop handing out the needles.

No one at the pharmacy, which also operates as a methadone clinic, could be reached for comment.

Last week, Victoria police tabled a report at a police board meeting saying the pharmacy's practice flied in the face of a community agreement to not hand out drug paraphernalia in a two-block radius around the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, because of the proximity to St. Andrew's Elementary School at 1002 Pandora Ave.

In the report dealing with street disorder, police said they had been receiving complaints from business owners and residents about the needle distribution in an area that already has its share of troubles.

However, it seems to be unclear whether the pharmacy, whose staff declined to comment on the issue last week as well, was violating an agreement.

Although popularly referred to as a "no-go zone," there isn't a written policy about it, said Katrina Jensen, executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island.

She said that AVI operates under contract with the Vancouver Island Health Authority to distribute clean needles from a van, and in doing so, adheres to a written code of conduct that says needles will not be passed out near schools, open businesses or homes. And it has a spoken agreement with VIHA not to pass out needles within a two-block radius of St. Andrew's.

"That is just an agreement we have with the Vancouver Island Health Authority," said Jensen. "It's not with the neighbourhood, it's not with the school, it's not with the police."

"Nothing has ever been signed. It is just a voluntary agreement," she said.

The agreement was established after VIHA tried to put a fixed needle exchange at 941 Pandora Ave., the old site of the St. John Ambulance Society, in 2008, but faced public outrage -- most of it from parents upset at the notion of a needle exchange within a half block of the school.

The last fixed-site needle exchange closed in 2008 after six years of operation. Neighbours of the Cormorant Street facility, fed up with the disturbances, violence, blood, feces and other refuse, finally convinced the landlord to evict the exchange. Since then, any attempts at finding a home for a needle exchange or distribution system has been met with community objections, and VIHA has opted instead for a widespread, distributed approach to passing out clean needles. Agencies such as AVI, or VIHA operations such as public health sites, may pass out needles.

VIHA has said it's committed to harm reduction by making clean needles available to intravenous drug users to stop the spread of infectious blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

In 'Pharmacy puts stop to needle distribution.' Richard Watts. Times Colonist. November 17, 2010. http://www.timescolonist.com/health/Pharmacy+puts+stop+needle+distributi...