Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jul 2006
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Paul Forsyth
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


'Explosion' In Demand For Clean Needles For Users Raises Concern

THOROLD - Is intravenous drug use soaring in Niagara, or is the
Region's needle exchange program to combat the spread of infectious
disease simply effective?

That was the question on the minds of Regional politicians this week,
when they received statistics showing the number of syringes being
handed out to drug users has seen a 30-fold increase since the program
was introduced in 1993.

When the idea of a needle exchange program was first pondered at the
Region in the early 1990s, it sparked a long, heated debate. Opponents
feared it would promote and condone illegal drug use, while supporters
said it was the best way to halt the spread of blood-borne viruses
such as the deadly HIV virus and hepatitis C.

Statistics presented to politicians this week showed the number of
needles being handed out have soared dramatically, from 11,378 in 1993
to 75,312 by 2000 to 261,222 last year.

It sparked the question: is drug use on the rise in

The short answer, said Dr. Doug Sider, the Region's associate medical
officer of health, is there's no way to know for sure because there
are so few accurate studies of levels of intravenous drug use.

"There is woefully insufficient data," he said. But the "explosion" of
demand for clean needles is likely a reflection of the trust the
program and outreach workers have developed among drug users over the
years, he said.

"The 20-fold increase can probably be explained by a 20-fold increase
in trust."

Alan Spencer, a manager with the Region's public health department,
said trust has been earned by word-of-mouth among drug users outreach
staff can be trusted. In turn, Niagara has low levels of HIV and
hepatitis C due to infected needles, he said.

"We're finding we're reaching more people who need these services than
in the past," he said.

St. Catharines councillor Bruce Timms said he'd like to see statistics
on infection rates of HIV and hepatitis C in the future, to see if the
exchange program is making a difference in halting the spread of disease.

"Are our infection rates coming down because we provided needles? We
should be discussing that."
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