Pubdate: Sat, 24 May 2003
Source: Medicine Hat News (CN AB)
Copyright: 2003 Alberta Newspaper Group, Inc.
Author: Jennifer Malo


After one year, the needle-exchange program has dropped from public eye but 
it has celebrated its own victories.

When the controversial program was instituted at the HIV/AIDS Network of 
Southeastern Alberta office on Allowance Avenue last May, it was the talk 
of the town. While some Hatters believed it would perpetuate drug 
addiction, others thought it would ensure used needles could not be found 
by children or infect other users with diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis C.

A number of concerns were raised last May, but Richard Gregory, a 
spokesperson for the HIV Network, said they were unfounded.

"All the scare tactics that were used by those people who opposed the 
needle-exchange program, not a single one of their predictions have come 
true," he said. "That the people in the neighbourhood would have to fight 
off drug dealers and that there would be break and enters all over the 
community because they would be breaking into their homes to steal stuff to 
support their habits. That none of the businesses would be safe, that we 
would have drug dealers hanging out on the street."

Darlene Bedford, like several other neighbours, hasn't noticed anything out 
of the ordinary in the past year.

"I'd rather see that they have (the needles) taken away."

The program has been successful in reaching out to users and providing them 
with information on how to kick their habit, said Gregory.

"Very successful because we have, I think, been able to establish a fairly 
good level of trust with the folks that use our service and that word is 
getting out, fairly successfully, about the program."

Giving drug users clean needles is a preventative method to fight disease 
and therefore hard to judge exactly how successful it has been.

"We do know a significant number of our exchange clients who are Hep-C 
positive and so one of the things we know is that as long as they're using 
clean needles and not sharing, they're not passing that on to anybody else."

There are 26 regulars who drop off used needles -- sometimes for their 
friends -- and over 5,000 fresh needles were given out over the past year.

"We're here a year, it's been very good and I think we'll continue to 
provide the service," said Gregory.
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