Pubdate: Fri, 21 Sep 2001
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2001 New Zealand Herald
Author: Martin Johnston, health reporter
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Needle exchange workers fear a surge of hepatitis C among illegal-drug 
users with the imminent closure of two exchanges.

And the national Needle Exchange Programme says it cannot rule out more 

The trust which runs exchanges in Palmerston North and Napier says it will 
be forced to close them on October 10 because of insufficient Government money.

"If people don't exchange needles and use them only once every time, the 
rate of hepatitis C and risk of HIV will increase," programme national 
co-ordinator Simon Nimmo said yesterday.

His views were echoed by Palmerston North exchange manager Kelvin Richardson.

Mr Nimmo said users from Hawkes Bay to Horowhenua and Wanganui would still 
be able to buy needles and syringes from participating pharmacies and 
return them after use.

But only 30 per cent of the more than one million needles dispensed 
nationwide through the programme annually went through pharmacies. The rest 
went through the 13 needle exchanges.

Mr Nimmo said older users would probably go to the pharmacies in Palmerston 
North and Napier but the younger ones would probably "share and reuse their 

Users who obtained needles from pharmacies were also far less likely to 
return them. This created health risks for the public because many used 
needles ended up in public rubbish bins.

Around half of the programme's drug users have hepatitis C, but less than 
0.5 per cent are HIV positive.

Mr Nimmo said it was "quite possible" that other needle exchanges could 
close because of underfunding. Nationally, they received $2.2 million a 
year of taxpayer money, but needed $4.5 million.

The health ministry had rejected a proposal from his organisation to rescue 
the closing services. The ministry is paying $172,000 a year to the trust, 
but twice that sum was needed, he said.

Dr Don Matheson, the ministry's Deputy Director-General, public health, 
said the ministry was trying to find a new provider for the services.

The ministry wanted the two closing exchanges to continue using volunteer 
workers, Mr Richardson said, but he considered it unsafe for volunteers to 
give out health information on which people's lives depended.

The Palmerston North police said that drug-related crime would only worsen 
when the city's needle exchange closed.
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