Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jul 2003
Source: Bracebridge Examiner (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The Bracebridge Examiner Ltd.
Author: Patti Ann Vipond


The Muskoka-Parry Sound Health Unit's program committee will consider a 
pilot project for a needle exchange program.

Megan Williams, a member of the needle exchange program working group, told 
a recent board of health meeting that the program is based on a harm 
reduction strategy to prevent the spread of HIV, and hepatitis B and C 
among injection drug users and the community.

The plan recommends two parent sites at sexual health clinics, and four 
partner sites in Burk's Falls, Parry Sound, Gravenhurst and Sundridge where 
clients can exchange used needles for new ones.

"They would be points of contact for injection drug users, a group who 
often don't get to other social services," said Williams. "They could get 
referrals, condoms, health information and start a relationship with the 
system. The program minimizes risk without judgment, but does not condone 
the use of drugs."

Williams said the working group surveyed health, addiction and social 
organization personnel, criminal justice workers and drug users last summer 
to see if there was a need for the program in Muskoka-Parry Sound. Surveys 
showed an 85 per cent positive response to the idea.

Working group member Laura Moon presented Muskoka-Parry Sound statistics 
showing 78 cases of hepatitis C in 2002, with 170 injection drug users 
recorded in 1997. Addiction Outreach reported seeing 106 injection drug 
users since 1998, with 19 in the last year. Of the 150 survey respondents, 
54 per cent said they saw injection drug users requesting medical care, 
addiction services, criminal justice, mental health counselling, and 
financial assistance.

Board member Scott Young said with only 170 possible injection drug users 
in the area, he thinks people would ask him if there were not more 
important concerns.

Medical officer of health Dr. Bill Hemens replied that he sees two or three 
IV drug users per month who have overdosed.

"There is a one in 200 chance of catching HIV from a dirty needle stick, 
and a one in four chance of catching hepatitis," said Hemens. "I do see 
needle stick injuries, such as one man in Algonquin Park who stepped on a 
needle. Injection drug users do put more people at risk."

Moon told the board that every dollar spent on the needle exchange program 
will save money in the future on HIV and hepatitis B and C treatment.

She also noted about one-third of survey respondents wanted to help develop 
a local needle exchange program.
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