Needle exchange clients feel stigmatized by first responders, survey finds

A survey the province of P.E.I. did as part of its opioid progress report found that clients using needle exchange programs felt stigmatized by first responders and others. 

'I don't think that is ever intended that way,' says chief public health officer

Results from a recent survey from the province show opioid users feel stigmatized by first responders. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

Results of a survey put out by health officials on P.E.I. found that clients using needle exchange programs felt stigmatized by first responders and others. 

The survey, completed over the last few months, was done to provide more information on the practices of P.E.I.'s needle exchange program, which started in 2010. There were 18 respondents to the survey.

Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer, said that the majority of responses indicated that people use opioids when they're alone and that the reaction to first responders was not always positive.

"Clients of the needle exchange program indicated they have felt stigmatized by first responders and others as a result of opioid use," Morrison said.

"We know that that is also very consistent with some of the messaging that has been highlighted across the country."

Morrison said that needs to change, and a key part of the messaging around harm reduction is about eliminating the stigma that surrounds opioid use.

It's important people don't hesitate to call 911 and "not to use [opioids] alone," Morrison said. As for any potential stigma from first responders, she said "that's what we'll continue to work on."

"I think there's some really good first responders ... and I don't think that is ever intended that way."

1 death this year, 4 accidental overdoses

In 2019, to date, there has been one accidental apparent opioid-related death and four people had accidental opioid-related overdoses. 

As for how the province is dealing with the issue, Morrison said the plan is to establish a prescription monitoring program and to form a committee that will address pain management services, practices and education. 

"We're certainly exploring how we move toward an integrated public health approach to problematic substance use, which would include opioids but also alcohol, tobacco and cannabis and other substances that would have a population-level health impact," she said.

More P.E.I. news 

With files from Island Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.