Pubdate: Sat, 27 Oct 2001
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: The Hamilton Spectator 2001
Author: Lee Prokaska, Municipal Affairs Reporter


The region's fledgling needle exchange program distributed 3,641 new 
needles to drug users in four months of operation. The program, called 
Exchange Works, also handed out a range of safer injection equipment 
including cotton filters, sterile water, tourniquets and alcohol swabs, as 
well as 890 condoms and 226 packages of lubricant to promote safer sex 
practices among intravenous drug users.

And 20 people who made contact with a needle exchange outreach worker were 
referred to other agencies for counselling.

"Initially, you need to build trust before people can identify that they 
are looking at different issues in their lives," said Denise Mousseau, a 
community outreach worker with the city of Hamilton. "It takes slow, gentle 

The continuation of a needle exchange program has been approved by regional 
council, although it must still get through the budget process intact.

The $40,000 pilot program, which got up and running last May, is expected 
to cost about $80,000 annually.

In its first four months of operation, the program had contact with 78 
people, with 30 repeat contacts. Seventy-two of the contacts involved an 
exchange of needles or injection equipment. A staff report to the region 
indicates the average age of clients was 26 and the primary drugs of choice 
were steroids, heroin, cocaine and prescription opiates. Twenty of the 
contacts also involved counselling in areas such as safer injection 
practices, safer sex, safer steroid injection, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and 
prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

Community-based organizations that support the needle exchange program say 
the people it reaches are a difficult group to serve.

"Because it's a hidden population, we can't be assured of their safety," 
said Jennifer Spears, program manager with Halton's ADAPT (Alcohol and Drug 
Assessment, Prevention and Treatment). "It is a difficult population to 
access and this program provides harm-reduction strategies because we can 
educate them about not sharing needles and using condoms. But it's also a 
bridge to treatment for this group."

ADAPT is among the organizations that make up the needle exchange advisory 
committee, which was created more than a year ago to provide advice and 
evaluate the program.

All the Exchange Works contacts so far have been through a mobile outreach 
service, not through any fixed sites. The contacts are spread -- somewhat 
unevenly -- throughout the region, with three in Georgetown, eight in 
Acton, 14 in Oakville, 38 in Milton and 45 in Burlington.

The apparently high number of contacts in Milton caused concern for Milton 
Councillor Richard Malboeuf, who questioned whether the numbers indicate a 
drug problem in his town.

But Dr. Bob Nosal, the region's medical officer of health, says Milton is 
no worse than any other community.

"So much of it depends on contacts, supports that exist, networking within 
the various populations," Nosal told a recent meeting of the region's 
health and social services committee. "There is no evidence that there is a 
drug problem in Milton that is higher than any other community in Halton."
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