Pubdate: Fri, 21 Sep 2007
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Paul Forsyth
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Regional Officials Predict 300,000 Syringes Will Be Handed Out in 2007

THOROLD -- Public health officials predict they'll hand out more than
300,000 syringes to intravenous drug users in Niagara this year, an
all-time high.

But far from contributing to illegal drug use, they say it's a proven
way of keeping blood-borne, infectious diseases such as AIDS from
sweeping through the drug underworld.

Debate was heated back in 1993 when the region, which is responsible
for public health in Niagara, looked at whether to start a needle
exchange program. Ultimately, the region opted for the program as part
of what officials call "harm reduction." The theory is that by
convincing drug users not to share contaminated needles, the spread of
diseases with lifelong consequences -- and which can sap the
province's health-care system -- are reduced.

Demand for needles has since then continually increased, from 11,378
needles handed out to 718 people in 1993, to 258,133 needles to 4,267
people last year. Alan Spencer, with the region's sexual health
program, told regional politicians Tuesday he expects that number to
surpass 300,000 this year.

"I expect we'll continue to see demand for our services to escalate,"
he said. "People like our services and they want more of it."

Part of the reason for the growth in the number of needles handed out
is that drug users have learned to trust those involved in the
program, which AIDS Niagara oversees for the region, said Spencer. The
program costs about $147,000 a year, with the province picking up
two-thirds of the tab.

Spencer said intravenous drug users are at very high risk of
contracting HIV, which can lead to full-blown AIDS, and are
particularly at risk of being infected with hepatitis C, which attacks
the liver.

St. Catharines Coun. Judy Casselman noted that in light of the
"controversial" nature of needle exchange programs, it is possible to
nail down how many potential cases of blood-borne diseases the program
is preventing in Niagara.

Dr. Doug Sider, associate medical officer of health, said it's
impossible to conclusively prove it in Niagara, but said "there's
every good reason to assume that."

Spencer said research has proven that needle exchange programs don't
encourage drug use, and the cost of such programs is far less than the
life-long costs of treating HIV/AIDS.

Pelham Coun. Brian Baty said moms and dads are alarmed if their kids
stumble across a used syringe in an alley or in a school yard, and
wondered if all those thousands of needles being handed out contribute
to more discarded needles.

Spencer said research has shown that needle exchange programs don't
contribute to more discarded needles, and said the Niagara program is
good at getting people to turn in used needles. 
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