Pubdate: Tue, 08 Jul 2003
Source: Recorder & Times, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 Recorder and Times
Author: Mark Calder
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Hepatitis C is a growing problem among addicts here, highlighting the need
for a needle exchange program, says Jane Futcher, director of clinical
services for the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit.

Anecdotal evidence of local addicts using Kingston and Cornwall-based
programs, as well as surveys suggesting infection through needle sharing,
justifies starting one, she said.

Surveys done three years ago through health unit clinics suggest nearly 260
people with hepatitis C believe their cases are linked with drug use. And in
a survey of 28 area pharmacies, 22 report people purchasing needles for
non-diabetic use and at least 18 of those report people coming in more than
once monthly.

The program would provide clean needles for users, as well as a place to
dispose of old needles to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases through
needle sharing, she said. It would also reduce accidental infection through
proper disposal of used needles.

Just how the program will be set up is still to be determined, but Futcher
hopes to run one with the help of area pharmacists who can use the
opportunity to provide health care education as they distribute needles. The
health unit would provide the needles and sterile water to be given to
users, most of whom are addicted to cocaine.

While she doesn't yet know how much the program will cost, she did say users
require up to 10 needles a day. Each disposable needle and syringe would
costs the health unit ten cents each.

The initial plan is to form a community consultation committee comprised of
representatives from law enforcement, pharmacies, health unit officials,
social services, users and past users to discuss how to implement and run
the program. She is unsure when the program will be up and running, but they
hope to strike the committee this fall.

While some may oppose such a program, seeing it as condoning drug use,
Futcher said needle-related infection is a public health issue that must be

In fact, needle exchanges are a mandated program of the Ministry of Health
and the local health unit is one of only a handful across the province
without one.

It's also a way to reduce health-care costs down the line.

"The cost associated with preventive measures are always less than
treatment," said Futcher. "Somebody with hepatitis C can have chronic liver
disease, are at a higher-risk of liver cancer and pancreatic cancers and can
be chronically ill with abcesses and in and out of hospital.

"The point is you want to be able to keep your drug users as healthy as
possible until they want to quit."

She also says another approach is needed to replace conventional enforcement
programs, where the majority of money goes now for the fight against drugs.

"The problem right now is most of our money in Canada and the United States
for drug prevention is on enforcement, but it hasn't worked. If it had
worked we wouldn't have the drug problem anymore.

"We have to accept the fact illegal drug use is something that is here and
consider how we can minimize the danger to people associated with its use."

While the program is still months away, at least some area pharmacists agree
with the concept of the program.

Carolyn Burpee, pharmacist-owner of the Shoppers Drug Mart stores in
Brockville, is open to the idea.

"It's not that we condone it (drug use) it's that it's a public health issue
- - big time," she said.

She is personally concerned about needles being improperly disposed of,
raising the spectre of needles being left in parks or on the street.

"If a little kid picks it up there's a real danger and a real safety risk
and most pharmacists now recognize that," she said.

Mark Leslie, president of the Rideau-St. Lawrence Pharmacists' Association,
the local pharmacists' professional association, said setting up the program
at pharmacies would make sense from a logistical point of view because
they're accessible seven days a week.

However, he cautioned the matter has not yet been discussed by association
members and there would have to be negotiations with the health unit before
members would agree to such a program.

While Futcher did not know the costs of a program here, a project started
this year by the health unit in Hastings and Prince Edward County, a
jurisdiction similar to Leeds-Grenville and Lanark, cost about $2,500 in the
first quarter, said program manager Marsha Olinski.

Olinski also said demand may exceed initial estimates. Based on surveys of
local addicts, the health unit planned to distribute 10,000 needles a year.
In the first six months, it distributed 6,000.
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MAP posted-by: Josh