Pubdate: Fri, 06 Jun 2003
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2003, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Canadian Press


May Help Curb HIV Infection Among Prisoners

OTTAWA -- The Commons Health Committee has come out in favour of 
needle-exchange programs for drug users within federal prisons so as to 
curb high rates of HIV infection among prisoners.

The controversial recommendation in a report tabled yesterday is couched in 
technical language, but committee members confirmed the intent.

It calls for "harm-reduction strategies for prevention of HIV-AIDS amongst 
intravenous drug users in correctional facilities based on eligibility 
criteria similar to those used in the outside community."

Harm reduction is the term used for programs that allow drug addicts to use 
drugs in a safe manner.

Addicts can get access to clean needles in most Canadian cities but not in 
prisons, despite the extremely high number of drug users in prison, and the 
high rates of HIV-AIDS and hepatitis C.

"We've been asking how do drugs get into prisons and we can't get answers," 
said Liberal committee member Hedy Fry in an interview.

"People say they've been doing all the things you should do to stop it but 
it still manages to get in."

Given the fact that drugs are common in prisons, the problem of infectious 
disease becomes crucial for public health, she said.

"They (prisoners) come back out and there's huge reinfection of other 
people, especially families - we find there's such a high percentage of 
women with HIV-AIDS," explained Fry.

During the committee hearings, Francoise Bouchard, director general of 
health services at Corrections Canada, said that 70% of prisoners have 
substance abuse problems.

Bouchard said drug seizures are regularly made within prisons despite a 
wide range of measures to prevent the entry of illegal drugs.

Federal prisoners can get bleach kits to sterilize their needles, but the 
kits are often not used, she said.

The drug problem is so pervasive that some prisons have special drug-free 
units for prisoners who are highly motivated to beat their addictions.

In a dissenting opinion, the Opposition Canadian Alliance opposed the 
proposal for prison needle exchanges, saying they would lead to higher 
rates of drug use in prisons.

"It would amount to an admission of defeat to the disturbing reality of 
heightened drug use and abuse among inmates."

The committee recommended that funding for the federal HIV-AIDS strategy be 
more than doubled to $100 million from the current $42.2 million annually.

But the Alliance called for a somewhat smaller funding increase, to $85 

The committee heard that about 4,000 new HIV infections are being reported 
in Canada annually.

Those infections add an estimated $600 million annually to future medical 
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