Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jul 2001
Source: Abbotsford News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001 Hacker Press Ltd.
Author: Gillian Arsenault
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Editor, The News:

I have been following with interest the Fraser Valley Health Region 
newspapers' letters to the editor discussions on needle exchange 
services. I would like to support correspondents who have raised the 
following points:

1. Needle exchange services and other harm reduction services are 
necessary, but not sufficient.

By themselves, needle exchange and other harm reduction services will 
not, and should not be expected to, cure drug addiction. However, 
without needle exchange and other harm reduction services, drug 
addiction does much more damage.

Similarly, seat belts don't - and aren't expected to - cure drunk 
driving, but far more people are injured and die from drunk driving 
when seat belts aren't used.

2. Treatment for drug addiction is needed for people who can't break 
free themselves.

It is important to realize that some people have inherited a 
biological vulnerability to addiction. Their brain cells are much 
more strongly affected by addictive drugs, and they are much more 
likely to need help to overcome their addiction.

Unfortunately, treatment services for drug addiction have been 
severely cut back over the past few decades in B.C.

As a result, treatment for addiction is often not available for those 
who need it. More treatment services are needed to help people who 
can't beat addiction on their own, and more harm reduction services 
are needed to prevent death and disease in those who haven't yet 
beaten their addiction.

3. It is a myth that you can tell who is or isn't using intravenous 
drugs just by looking at them.

Well paid, highly placed professional people can and do abuse 
intravenous drugs. They are better able to afford to buy their drugs, 
and better able to hide their addiction - but they are no more immune 
to overdoses or catching blood-borne viruses than is anyone else.

4. Experience with needle exchange services shows that intravenous 
drug users consistently bring in more needles than they take out.

In other words, having a needle exchange reduces the number of used 
needles left lying around in the community.

5. Needle exchanges and other harm reduction services cut down the 
risk of blood-borne infection for everyone in a community, not just 
for those addicted to intravenous drugs.

HIV and hepatitis B and C are spread by blood and body fluids. The 
less a community does to stop people who use intravenous drugs from 
becoming infected, the more people will become infected.

These viruses can and do spread from the infected drug users to 
others by needle pokes and other blood contact, by sex, and even 
(although to a much lesser extent) through sharing fresh saliva.

It is helpful and charitable to support services that prevent drug 
addiction, and services that reduce harm from drug addiction, and 
services that treat drug addiction.

It is also very practical community self-interest.

Gillian Arsenault, MD FRCPC Medical health officer and vice-president 
public health protection and licensing
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