Pubdate: Wed, 11 Feb 2004
Source: Recorder & Times, The (CN ON)
Section: Sec. A, page 1
Copyright: 2004 Recorder and Times
Author: Megan Gillis
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)


The health unit is planning a pilot needle exchange in Smiths Falls 
pharmacies to prevent intravenous drug abuse from further harming addicts - 
and the rest of us.

The Ontario government ordered health units to provide needle exchanges a 
decade ago; the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit is among 
the last to comply. Proponents hope to take the program across Lanark, 
Leeds and Grenville by 2005.

"The community groups are pushing us - let's get this moving," said 
director of clinical services Jane Futcher, who's working with a committee 
of police, pharmacists, addictions counsellors and an HIV/AIDS worker.

Needle exchanges in Ottawa and Kingston are saying that tri-county 
residents are travelling to use their services and that we should be 
providing it ourselves, Futcher said.

There's also a growing number of hepatitis C infections linked to IV drug use.

Organizers hope to have the pilot program running by summer. If it's a 
success, the board of health will be asked to take it countieswide at an 
estimated cost of $10,000 in the first year.

The aim is harm reduction.

"That's the whole point of needle exchanges - you want to reduce the harm 
intravenous drug users are doing to themselves when they're addicted so 
when they make the decision they're going to quit, they'll be healthy," 
Futcher said.

Needle exchanges are aimed at preventing the sharing of needles, which 
spreads HIV and hepatitis B and C. The contact is also a good time to point 
users to shelters, social services, and health clinics to kick the habit. 
More than 30 needle exchanges are running in Ontario.

It's hard to know exactly how many people are using intravenous drugs, 
Futcher said.

But since 1996, 241 of the 507 people in the tri-counties who tested 
positive for hepatitis C reported that they'd been shooting up. Smaller 
numbers of people with HIV and hepatitis B - eight and 12 respectively - 
said they'd been using IV drugs.

Rising hepatitis C cases mean rising drug use, Futcher said.

The committee concluded pharmacies are the best place for needle exchanges 
because they're available even small communities and are staffed by health 
professionals. There's also no stigma about visiting the corner drug store.

A health unit study also found that nearly 80 per cent or pharmacies 
already take needles for disposal and report selling syringes to people 
they know aren't diabetics.

Organizers still have to get Smiths Falls pharmacists on board with the 
pilot project, design the training they'll offer employees on 
confidentiality and referrals, and figure out how they'll dispose of the 
needles and let users know the service exists.

Smiths Falls is the proposed site for the pilot because it's the 
second-largest urban area with several pharmacies and higher rates of 
hepatitis C infections. There is also a host of organizations, including 
Tri-County Addiction Services, eager to get involved.

John MacTavish travels Lanark, Leeds and Grenville helping people with 
HIV/AIDS or who are at risk of being infected. His clients, who know 
HIV/AIDS Regional Services operates a needle exchange in Kingston, already 
ask him to bring them clean needles.

He knows that people in small communities are using IV drugs - he's even 
been called to a park near Brockville Collegiate Institute to pick up 
discarded needles. Needle exchanges prevent the spread of disease to 
addicts, their partners and children and give them an opportunity to seek 
help when they're ready.

Needle exchanges also make sure needles are properly discarded so garbage 
collectors or children playing in a park aren't accidentally stuck and 
potentially exposed to HIV or hepatitis.

"The other thing, and this is a point some people don't understand, is to 
acknowledge that everyone in our community - every human being - has 
value," MacTavish said.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman