Pubdate: Fri, 13 Oct 2006
Source: Kootenay Western Star (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Kootenay Western Star
Author: Lynsey Franks


Help Is Offered Where Help Is Needed.

The spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is an ongoing issue that is 
recognized in the Kootenay Boundary area, and continues to be 
recognized by ANKORS, a rural HIV/AIDS information network study.

ANKORS provides a needle-exchange program to help people make 
informed decisions by providing those in need with sterile syringes, 
water, filters, alcohol swabs and education.

Drug addictions and abuse are worsened by the sharing of equipment, a 
focus for members of both ANKORS and local health departments.

"We meet with people using drugs where they are at and try to stay 
well-connected with those who have addictions," said Alex 
Sherstobitoff, an ANKORS member.

It's important to have a facility available 24/7 in order to 
accommodate to drug users, he added, otherwise the risk of sharing is 
proposed. Secondary exchanges are available, and are often a more 
inconspicuous source for clean, safe equipment.

There are always risks involved when dealing with such harmful 
substances, and Sherstobitoff describes the dangers involved. Based 
on overdose, mixing drugs, stopping and starting, taking drugs in an 
unsafe environment, injecting improperly or hurriedly, and the lack 
of prompt access to detox and treatment can result in death from a needle.

With six help centres in the surrounding Kootenay region, 
Sherstobitoff said the hope is to bring the drug users in and 
eventually earn their trust to begin the recovery cycle.

"Many of these people don't want to be identified as drug users. 
People are hiding in the shadows and we want to get people help by 
bridging the gap between us and health officials."

By engaging with people who are using drugs ANKORS hopes to make a 
personal connection, a process that takes time in order to build the 
trust to find people the help they need.

"I really believe in four pillars, the needle exchange program is 
complimentary to prevention and treatment, and we all need to work 
together to prevent spread and overdose. We don't preach abstinence, 
a lot of people aren't ready to be abstinent, people have to come 
when they are ready."

Education is the key to prevention, Hep C rates are very high, and 
Sherstobitoff said there is a lower rate of HIV spread in the area 
through injection drug use at this point versus Hep C.

Hep C lives outside its host for roughly three days, whereas HIV dies 
as soon as it's airborne, unless it is capsulated in a syringe.

By sharing water to rinse the syringe, the disease can be passed just 
as easily as it would be by sharing the syringe itself. By properly 
disposing of used equipment left in the community, and travelling to 
people's homes, ANKORS is taking preventative measures one step at a time.

Sherstobitoff and ANKORS employees travel all over the Kootenay 
region, conducting presentations to health professionals in order to 
educate and involve as much support for these people as physically 
possible. The organization gives out roughly 120 thousand syringes 
annually, with a successful syringe return rate of 92 per cent. "I 
just don't think there is enough of me to go around. There's a lot of 
work to do, and we just can't get to every community," he said of the 
challenges he faces.

Many drug users need a place to live and have a hard time finding 
physicians as confidentiality is crucial for those seeking help. A 
support group is offered during the first Thursday of every month in 
Nelson and are held at 7 p.m. for anyone interested.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elaine