Pubdate: Sat, 06 Sep 2003
Source: Standard, The (St. Catharines, CN ON)
Copyright: 2003, The Standard


Editorial - Friday's front-page story revealed an alarming crisis facing 
StreetWorks, AIDS Niagara's two-person operation that travels around the 
region handing out drug equipment and clean needles to drug users.

In 1996, StreetWorks dispensed approximately 28,000 free syringes. Last 
year, it handed out 158,000 and this year the number will likely be even 
higher. That means the need will likely outstrip the supply again this 
year, and AIDS Niagara will have to cover another deficit, as it did with 
last year's $16,000 overrun.

What's the reason for the upsurge in Niagara? This region has become so 
saturated with illicit hard drugs it is now easier to get crack cocaine on 
the street than it is to acquire soft drugs like marijuana.

Crack became the drug of choice, particularly among poorer residents, 
during the last decade because it was relatively cheap. A "rock" or 
crystalline chunk of the drug the size of a pea could be had for as little 
as $25. It gave those who smoked it an immediate high and users quickly 
became addicted.

But now users have discovered a way to convert it to liquid form and inject 
it into their bloodstream. That has put a huge strain on groups such as 
StreetWorks, and their resources are now spread pretty thin.

As a result of the huge increase in needle users, AIDS Niagara plans to 
make a presentation to the Region's community and health services committee 
Monday requesting more money.

In our view, they should get it. Dispensing free needles doesn't encourage 
drug use, but it helps to ensure users won't catch a communicable disease 
from sharing their syringes and it helps to prevent the spread of disease 
from infected users.

Although such programs cost money, it is a far cheaper way for the Region 
to deal with potential health problems than treating patients who develop 
AIDS or hepatitis C from contaminated needles.

Although members of the public might object to their tax dollars going to 
provide free needles to drug addicts, they should remember the goal of 
StreetWorks isn't to get users to stop taking drugs. It doesn't have the 
resources to do that. The program's aim is to prevent users from catching 
or spreading potentially fatal diseases so as to minimize the impact of the 
illegal drug trade on our health-care system.

Many people have little sympathy with addicts, whether those unfortunates 
are addicted to drugs, to alcohol, to gambling or to food. But people would 
do well to remember that for addicts, such dependency is almost never the 
problem -- it is a failed way of trying to deal with some other problem. 
Addicts lose control of the means they use to make themselves feel better, 
and they end up doing more harm to themselves.

Programs like StreetWorks seek to minimize the harm addicts bring to 
themselves and others. We think that effort should continue.

Niagara should also continue to wage war on drug dealers and those who 
smuggle drugs into this region. That fight should never end.

But in the process, we shouldn't neglect the walking wounded.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens