Pubdate: Tue, 22 Feb 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Kitty Holland


Syringe-vending machines, involving pharmacies in distributing
syringes and providing mobile needle exchanges are among the
recommendations of a report which calls for an urgent increase in the
number of syringe exchanges in Dublin.

The report, Making Contact: An Evaluation of a Needle Ex-change, was
published by the Merchant's Quay Project in Dublin yesterday. It is a study
of the 1,337 clients attending its health promotion unit, the largest
needle exchange centre in the State, in the 18 months from May 1997 to
October 1998.

In particular, it focuses on the dangers of heroin addicts sharing
needles and injecting equipment, in the transmission of bloodborne
viruses such as hepatitis and HIV. The report's main policy
recommendation is that "the reduction of drug related harm" should be
the national drug policy's primary objective.

Abstinence was not an immediate option for over 95 per cent of drug
addicts, said Dr Joe Barry, public health specialist with the Eastern
Health Board.

"Of these, about 4,000 of Dublin's 12,000 to 14,000 addicts are on
methadone programmes. That's about one-third. So for two-thirds of
addicts the best means of harm reduction is to ensure they do not
share needles or injecting equipment."

The report found that of firsttime clients, 29 per cent said they had
shared injecting equipment in the previous four weeks. More than half
of these had borrowed used equipment from somebody else. One-third
were both lending and borrowing equipment.

One of the report's authors, Ms Gemma Cox, said homeless clients were
significantly more likely than their housed counterparts to borrow
used equipment.

"Some 23 per cent of housed clients shared equipment as compared with
31 per cent of homeless clients," she said. About 76 per cent of the
unit's clients described themselves as "sexually active". While 39 per
cent said they had non-drugusing partners, just 35 per cent said they
used condoms regularly.

Over the 18 months, among those attending the Merchant's Quay needle
exchange, there was a 44 per cent increase in numbers "employing
cleaning practices"; a 71 per cent decrease in those borrowing
injecting equipment; a 76 per cent reduction in those lending
equipment; and a 33 per cent increase in numbers using condoms.
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