Pubdate: Wed, 03 Apr 2002
Source: Grand Forks Gazette (CN BC)
Page 3
Copyright: 2002 Sterling Newspapers
Author: Paul J. Henderson
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


William was a teacher in Campbell River when he learned he had cancer. He 
carried on at work until his weight dropped from a solid 210 pounds down to 
a slight 160.  That and the pain became too much. William (not his real 
name) had never used drugs until the parent of one of his students gave him 
something for his pain.  It was heroin.

Fast forward eight years to the present.  William is 60 and the cancer 
hasn't gotten to him yet but the heroin has.  He shoots up to four times a 
day, which means to be safe, he goes through a lot of needles.

"When I got out there and started to use I thought I could walk away," 
William says.  "You lose everything when you use.  What you did. Who you 
are.  You're now a drug addict.

Then I fund out there were people to help you," he says and gestures to his 
friend Alex Sherstobitoff.

Sherstobitoff is helping in at least some small part with ANKORS and its 
"harm reduction" approach to drug use. ANKORS is an organization based in 
Nelson and Cranbrook whose mandate is to "respond to the evolving needs of 
those living with and affected by HIV and AIDS."

Harm reduction is a way of treating drug users as human beings.  They don't 
condone or condemn but rather deal with what people are actually doing and 
promote methods to minimize the risks of getting diseases like Hepatitis C 
or AIDS.

"It is important if you are going to use," Sherstobitoff says, "to do it as 
safe as possible."

Joan (not her real name) is 37 and shoots up once a day with morphine.

"I started using when I lost my son," she says.  Her son died as a baby of 
crib death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  She now has a 15-year-old and 
a 16-year-old and she says she is scared when she thinks of how needles 
used to end up on the street.  Because of needle exchange programs drug 
users can safely dispose of needles in a biohazard "sharps" container and 
then get new ones.

When asked what she did before needle exchanges Joan says, "Honestly there 
wasn't a lot of info.  We'd get a wine bottle and it would end up in a 

Without access to fresh needles and with an insatiable need to fix all too 
often tragedy results.

"I've shared," Joan confesses, "I've got Hep C."

She wants to make one thing absolutely clear about the needle exchange 
though: "The exchange is not promoting needle use."

Sherstobitoff brings the mobile needle exchange to Grand Forks once every 
two weeks to help users dispose of dangerous used rigs and get new ones. He 
says he has about 70 active users of the service in approximately 16 
communities throughout the Kootenay-Boundary.

With the recent cutbacks to health he doesn't know what will happen but he 
is confident it won't disappear totally.

Sherstobitoff doesn't just trade needles with junkies.  Part of his job is 
education.  Teaching people about the dangers of sharing needles or even 
using the same needle repetitively.  ANKORS even gives out contraceptives 
and info on how to use them.

"People are just starting to trust me," Sherstobitoff says.  "Trust is a 
big issue.  Our primary mission is to stop the spread of HIV and Hep C."

The irony that much of mainstream medicine looks down on users and needle 
exchanges yet these programs prevent the spread of HIV, which probably 
saves hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the health care system, is 
one that is not lost on Sherstobitoff.

"There is recognition, people are looking," he says but adds, "It is not 
happening quick enough though."

"I'm building my life again," William says, "I get a chance because of 
these people to fill my cup up once in a while.  It is more than just this 
needle exchange.  The needle is just the beginning."

Joan laughs and disagrees under her breath, "I'd say the needle is just the 
horrible end."
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