Pubdate: Fri, 25 Oct 2002
Source: Recorder & Times, The (CN ON)
Page: A1
Contact:  2002 Recorder and Times
Author: Mark Calder
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Local drug addicts will soon have a place to trade used needles for fresh 
ones as part of a plan to reduce the spread of AIDS and hepatitis.

The Leeds, Grenville, Lanark District Health Unit is in the process of 
designing a needle exchange program for the tri-county area. The Harm 
Reduction Strategy will also be a way to reach out to addicts to provide 
medical help and counselling.

The provincially mandated strategy is being implemented after a Toronto 
study revealed intravenous drug use is a problem in the tri-counties, said 
Laurie Doxtator, special projects co-ordinator for the department of 
clinical services.

Doxtator admits the program may offend some, but said it should be viewed 
as an immediate step in a campaign to increase public health, necessary 
because programs designed to help addicts kick their habit may take years 
to work.

"Needle exchanges do tend to be controversial and are sometimes viewed as 
condoning intravenous drug use," Doxtator said Thursday at the monthly 
meeting of the health unit board. "But changing behaviour can take months 
and years, and there's not really any guarantee of success.

"It's really about meeting people and helping them where they're at now and 
working with them. We're not judging them. We're trying to reduce the risk."

It's no different from sex education in the high schools, she said.

"We teach students that abstaining is the best approach but also provide 
them with condoms if they want them. It's just a pragmatic approach."

The needle exchange is one element of a broader strategy involving public 
education, referral for health services or counselling, and other 
health-related services to limit the spread of infectious diseases.

The need for the program was demonstrated in a provincewide study of 
intravenous drug use conducted by the University of Toronto in 1997.

The study suggests there are at least 320 intravenous drug users in the 
tri-county area based on AIDS infection rates and other data.

Twenty-two of 28 pharmacists contacted in the area reported needle requests 
for non-medical reasons in the year preceding the survey.

The estimate is probably low because it's based in part on voluntary 
reporting to the health unit, she said. People who use drugs or suspect 
they're HIV positive may not report it.

Studies show that half of all new AIDS cases come from intravenous drug use 
and sharing of needles. The incidence of sexually contracted AIDS is 
decreasing because more people now practise safe sex.

Medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner added another reason for the 
program is the new provincial jail being built in the area. Prisoners are a 
high-risk population for intravenous drug use.

"And the prisoners will become part of the community later because they 
often stay in the community they've been incarcerated in," said Gardner.

Some board members had concerns about the program.

Brockville Councillor Mike Kalivas wanted to know what would stop police 
from arresting people participating in the program because they're using 
illegal drugs.

Doxtater said the program will be designed and implemented by a committee 
including health officials, representatives of drug rehabilitation 
programs, former or current intravenous drug users, as well as the police. 
It could take many forms ranging, from a mobile program that takes fresh 
needles to addicts on the streets to one where addicts are required to come 
to a clinic to make the exchange.

Doxtator hopes to have the committee in place though by year's end.

Board member Dave Gordon, a veteran police officer, said he supports a 
needle exchange to reduce health risks. But he's against a mobile program 
similar to one operating in Ottawa because it disturbs homeowners in areas 
it operates.

"One of the negative impacts it creates is for residents of the downtown 
core," he said. "People see it as promoting drug use. It's a joke. They say 
'Here comes Molly Maid, the condom and needle lady.'"

He would like to see addicts required to come to a place such as the health 
unit to exchange needles.
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