Pubdate: Thu, 28 Oct 2004
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2004, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Kate Dubinski, Edmonton Sun
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


Drug addicted cons will use anything to get high, and the only
solution is government-funded needle exchange programs, say Edmonton
health and prisoner advocates. They are responding to a report
released yesterday that urges provincial, territorial and federal
governments to set up prison needle exchange programs in Canada's prisons.

But an Alberta prison guard union rep says he'd tell his staff to walk
off the job if that happened in the province.

The report, by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and first reported
yesterday by Sun columnist Mindelle Jacobs, says one out of 50
prisoners is known to be HIV-positive.

There were 251 HIV cases in federal prisons in 2002.

And it's rising. In Edmonton's provincial jails, there were 441 cases
of HIV in 2000 and 632 in 2003. Between July and December 2003, 23
cases of HIV/AIDS were reported as a result of injection drug use in
Alberta's prisons. In the last 18 years - from August 1985 to December
2003 - 489 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported as a result of injection
drug use.

"We're putting people in jail for addictions," said Marliss Taylor,
director of the Streetworks needle exchange program. "It's a health

Prisoners have jabbed themselves with ballpoint pen refills, pouring a
solution of drugs and water into their veins, said Brad Odsen, head of
the John Howard Society of Alberta.

But Mike Rennich, chairman of AUPE Local 3 - which represents
provincial corrections officers in all of Alberta - said needle
exchange programs in prison would only put guards in danger and
condone drug use among inmates.

"Drugs are illegal. We have a hard enough time controlling the
inmates,"Rennich said. "No one is sticking up for corrections officers."

But the corrections system - at all levels, from guards in provincial
prisons to Corrections Canada - has been shifting it's perspective on
the health risks of drug use within the system, said Joann
Woloshyniuk, acting executive director for HIV Edmonton.

"Tattooing, drugs, they do go on, and there have been some strides in
looking at public health.

"This (needle exchange program) would be the biggest."
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