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Type of submission: Oral
Conference track: Research
Topics: Harm Reduction in North America; Harm Reduction Services and Service Provision
Presenting author: Carol Strike
Carol Strike, Tara Marie Watson, Laurel Challacombe
Background: Actions by police (e.g., surveillance, arrests, confiscation of injection equipment) can disrupt access to needle and syringe programs (NSPs) for people who use drugs. Literature suggests that in-service training for police may improve their relationships with NSPs and thus client access. We characterized police-NSP relationships and in-service training practices across Canada.
Methodology: A multi-province/territory (excluding British Columbia) online survey of NSP characteristics and practices was conducted between April and August, 2015. We analyzed data using bivariate and logistic regression to assess factors influencing police-NSP relationships.
Results: Our survey response rate was 78%. Among participants, 57% represented an NSP in a community-based organization, 38% a public health unit, and 3% a community health centre. Two-thirds of programs had been operating for ten or more years; roughly half distributed less than 10,000 needles per year. Two-thirds distributed safer smoking equipment. Participants indicated that 69% of programs had a positive or mostly positive relationship with local police. Less than 50% of the programs provided in-service training to police about topics such as needle-stick injuries, concerns of people who use drugs, and effectiveness of NSPs and/or safer smoking equipment. Under 50% reported having an agreement to prevent police from: NSP surveillance, destroying safer drug use equipment and/or interfering with staff. Statistical analyses showed that offering any type of in-service training was the only significant predictor of positive NSP relationships with police.
Conclusions: Our findings align with recent national Best Practice Recommendations that stress the importance of delivering in-service training to police about NSPs goals and operations. Further work is needed to understand why some NSPs do not deliver such training and what can be done to increase training initiatives. Improving these relationships continues to be a crucial part of the harm reduction response, especially in non-Western contexts.