British Columbia

Canada's 1st needle exchange program to end after 29 years

A Vancouver program aimed at reducing the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis among injection-drug users is shutting down.

A Vancouver program aimed at reducing the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis among injection-drug users is shutting down.

The needle exchange program provides clean hypodermic needles and syringes to drug addicts. But the group that has run the program, Canada's first, has lost its funding.

The message on the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society's needle exchange van hotline blames the local health authority.

"On July 5 of this year, DEYAS ceased to operate. After 29 years of serving the people of the Vancouver area, our funder, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, has made the decision to terminate the funding to this program effective immediately," it said.

But Anna Marie D'Angelo, spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health, told CBC News that DEYAS's contract — worth $600,000 a year — simply expired, and they did not bid for a new contract.

"DEYAS informed us that they could not meet our contract obligations that they have with us, and that they were going to cease providing the service through the contract at the end of June," said D'Angelo.

Other agencies on the Downtown Eastside will continue to provide the needle exchange service, she said.

Anne Livingston, former director at one of those agencies, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, said street users have stopped using the DEYAS van anyway.

"There's great admiration for the work that they did. It was just really unfortunate they didn't keep up with a more modern kind of model with secondary exchange…rather than becoming a sort of rigorous 'We're the professionals. We do the needle exchange. It has to be done our way,'" said Livingston.

CBC News was unable to reach DEYAS early Tuesday morning.