Pubdate: Tue, 07 Mar 2000
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2000 New Zealand Herald
Contact:  PO Box 32, Auckland, New Zealand
Fax: (09) 373-6421
Author: Kate Belgrave


The first thing you notice about the interior of the needle exchange room at
the Health Funding Authority-financed Auckland Drug Information Outreach
Trust is that it looks exactly like the interior of a corner shop.

It is, in fact, much after the style of the Kabin, the little-corner-shop
which now belongs to Coronation Street's tragic Sharon. At the needle
exchange, there's a tidy shop-counter with a friendly looking retailer
behind it.

Behind him, stock is neatly, and discreetly, displayed on brightly coloured
plastic shelves.

The dialogue that takes place between the guy behind the counter and his
customers is of exactly the neighbourly tenor that it ought to be at your
local gas station, burger place or dairy.

Four people (all men - the exchange clientele is made up mainly of European
men between the ages of 25 and 35) came in to buy needles and
syringe-barrels in the hour I spent at the exchange a couple of days ago.
These guys parked their cars out the front, walked in and put in their usual
orders for clean needles and barrels.

After this, there followed the standard salesperson-customer dialogue about
the weather. "It's hot out there," and so on.

There were also the fairly standard conversations about finding the exact
change, rather than breaking notes of large denomination.

The bloke behind the counter usually wrapped up these brief, personable
interchanges by asking, "Do you want a swab with that?" in much the same way
your man on the mike at a drive-thru will ask if you want to upsize your
fries. And so on.

Now, I'd like to take a moment at this point to tell you why I wanted to
tell you a bit about the ambience up at the needle exchange centre.

I did not decide to write this little piece with a view to promoting drug
use or penning a little ode in support of any aspect of that particular
recreation in any way. I wish to do nothing of the sort and anybody who is
opening his or her mouth to accuse me of that can close the aforementioned
orifice right now.

The reason I wanted to tell you a bit about the ambience up at the needle
exchange centre is that I think it is high time (no pun intended) that
people got a feel for the banal, everyday, human aspect of drug use.

I thought about writing something along these lines when I read about Ann
Marlowe's book. (Marlowe is the New York journalist who wrote a
controversial book about her heroin habit. The book was controversial
because it did not go over the top - it described a person who kept up a
working life and a heroin habit.)

I certainly think about writing a few words on this subject whenever I am
subject to the pointless, nationwide hysteria that follows a rare, awful
instance of someone dying after an evening that may have involved use of
certain substances. (Those substances are rarely injected, of course. I
decided to write about needles today because I wanted to talk about an
activity that a lot of people would find even harder to relate to than oral

Anyway, the hysteria that follows all discussions of drug use strikes me as
greatly unhelpful.

It puts an end to any chance anyone ever had of thinking about the people
involved in human, commonplace terms and, thus, of understanding why people
- - average, everyday people - do the things that they do.

There are certainly a lot of people doing it. On the topic of intravenous
drug-users, the ADIO says there were more than 12,000 visits to the centre
in the last six months of last year.

This is a fact that appears to be supported by the large number of
gear-deposit bins that are stored out the back (the ADIO plans to count the
returned needles at the end of this month as part of an audit).

There look to be as many needles out there as there are empty tinnies in the
trash after the average party.

It is time people started to look at things that way.
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MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk