Surrey needle pickup program temporarily revived

Lookout Foundation has granted $10,000 out of an emergency fund to temporarily restore the program until March 2017

Surrey's Rig Dig program is run by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society.

SURREY — After having to end its needle pickup program after a loss in funding, Lookout Emergency Aid Society has temporarily revived the program.

The peer-led Rig Dig program, which began in 2006, came to a halt on Sept. 9 came after the society was unsuccessful in its bid for $44,000 in gaming grant funding this year.

But it has been announced that Lookout Foundation has granted $10,000 out of an emergency fund to restore the program this week, enough to keep it running until the end of March 17, according to a release.

See also: LETTER: We must find way to keep Surrey’s Rig Dig needle program alive

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“The Lookout Foundation does not normally fund ongoing operational expenses,” said its board president, Chuck Puchmayr. “However we’ve identified Rig Dig as an essential service in Surrey north. The emergency fund supports continuing the service while we attempt to secure ongoing funding.”

From April 1 to Aug. 31 last year the program reports collecting 21,099 used needles – a 200 per cent increase from the year before.

The society says it takes about $50,000 to run the program annually.

See also: Surrey businesses offer up fresh solutions to needle nightmare

Lookout Society executive director Shayne Williams said the program receives positive feedback from the community, but also from “former and active drug users who use their expertise to identify problematic areas to target for safe disposal and cleanup in Surrey.”

This news comes six days after Fraser Health announced it has chosen RainCity Housing and Support Society, which runs shelters in Maple Ridge and Coquitlam, to develop and execute a new regional harm reduction strategy, including a needle recovery program.

It’s not yet known what Surrey’s piece of the pie will be.

Fraser Health says the strategy will be implemented in communities with the greatest need and will include peer-based education to reduce the number of discarded needles and safe-using practices, referrals and information about healthcare and addiction, as well as a needle recovery program.

The society will also be distributing harm reduction supplies to drug users.

Fraser Health says the plan’s “peer-informed approach” will connect people who use drugs with people in recovery.

The health authority says “one of the tenets of harm reduction is to engage individuals in safer drug using practices that reduce infectious diseases such as HIV and Hep C” and “a peer-informed approach is considered an effective way to establish a connection with people who may not otherwise seek support for their addiction.”

Meanwhile, Fraser Health is still considering a safe consumption site for Surrey, said medical health officer Dr. Ingrid Tyler, but noted that work is being done outside of this strategy.

Fraser Health chief medical officer Dr. Victoria Lee said the new strategy aims to “build on our multi-pronged overdose strategy which aims to reduce the number of overdoses in our region.”

B.C.’s drug overdose death toll had climbed to 488 in the first eight months of this year – a 62 per cent jump for the same period of 2015.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com