Pubdate: Thu, 27 Nov 2008
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Osprey Media
Author: Lauren Cutler
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


HIV And AIDS Society Answers Questions, Concerns About Needle

The Wood Buffalo HIV and AIDS Society gave McMurrayites the chance
Wednesday to ask questions about the new needle exchange program set
to open in January.

About 10 to 15 people showed up to the open house between 10 a.m. and
2 p.m. said WBHAS Hepatitis C portfolio manager, Nor-ali McDaniel.

"It's a way for the community to come out and voice their concerns,"
said McDaniel.

Most people, she added, were worried that a needle exchange program
would encourage drug use.

This is not the case, McDaniel said.

"Needle exchanges are a harm reduction (technique) focused on reducing
harm in the community. . It's more of a cleanup."

McDaniel said that many of the people who came out were concerned
parents, "or older people who may not have known what the purpose of a
needle exchange is."

"Most, once they have an understanding of what it is, they understand
the need for it," she added.

In addition to one-on-one consultations with staff, community members
were given a 37-page booklet about the needle exchange.

Included in the booklet is justification for needle exchanges, a
review of the literature, a list of products the exchange will
provide, a cost analysis and a "summary of the best practice
recommendations" for safer drug use and sex.

The needle exchange will provide a variety of products as recommended
by the World Health Organization, including:

. Drugs like brown heroin and crack cocaine need an acid to prepare
them for use. People often use lemon juice or vinegar, which can cause
infections in the heart, eyes and veins. One-time use packets of
citric or ascorbic acid will be available.

. Alcohol swabs can be used to clean the site before injecting or to
clean up blood after the injection. They also help prevent abscesses
and bacterial infections.

. Cotton filters such as cigarette filters or cotton swabs are often
used to stop pieces from entering the syringe and then the veins.
These, however, do not stop bacteria. The ones provided will. .
Condoms and dental dams are "the best protection against contracting
HIV and other STIs."

. Syringes will be provided as requested. Making sure users have
enough needles is the "best method" of reducing the amount of reused
or non-sterile needles being used, limiting the risk of spreading disease.

The site will also host literature, counseling and referral

McDaniel said the service will be open to all members of the

"We build a friendly, trusting relationship with our clients," said
McDaniel. "There's no judgment."

That lack of judgment has already proven to be an important aspect in
improving the health of clients at Edmonton's needle exchange,
Streetworks, which has been up and running since 1990.

"What we have found is that, over time, as you start to build the
relationship with the person and they start to come in for their
exchanges, then they are in a position that if their life becomes more
stable, then we may be there to be able to help them with other
things. . It might be that they decide they want to go back to school,
it might be that someone wants to leave a violent relationship, who
knows, but the needles are really the hook," said Marliss Taylor,
Streetworks program manager. "The needles are important in and of
themselves to prevent HIV, but the needles also bring people in that
aren't maybe accessing any other services, and so then the
relationship is what's really important.

"What we have found over the years here in Streetworks, without
question, is that people may not be ready to quit right now, but they
might be in six months or in two years or even in 10 years, and then
they know and they come to us for that help."

Streetworks, like the upcoming Fort McMurray site, is an open needle
exchange where people can get as many needles as they need, instead of
just swapping dirty for clean needles on a one-to-one ratio.

Much like at the local community consultation, Taylor said Streetworks
has come across people concerned that needle exchanges promote drug
use. This is a black and white way of looking at the issue, she said.
She used the example of a smoker to help present the needle exchange
from a different perspective.

"As a smoker. the cigarettes are the drugs, the lighter is the
instrument that you use to do the drugs. So think about that in terms
of the needle. If I don't have a light, I'll walk up and ask anyone if
they've got one. A total stranger and use their light because I need
the nicotine that's in that cigarette," she said. "So if someone is
needing the drug, then they will walk up to people and get what they
can. They will buy a dirty needle, if they need to, because the
addiction is stronger, and addictions are not rooted in rational thought.

"If we weren't there, it doesn't mean they weren't going to do drugs.
They would just be doing them much more unsafely. They would be much
more chaotic and much more at risk of spreading illnesses that none of
us want."
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