Pubdate: Fri, 18 Jul 2008
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2008 The StarPhoenix
Author: Pamela Cowan, Saskatchewan News Network; Regina Leader-Post


REGINA -- To address sharp criticism of the province's needle 
exchange programs, Health Minister Don McMorris has launched an 
independent review of the programs.

The Ministry of Health received complaints from organizations such as 
the Saskatoon Police Service about finding needles during the spring 
thaw, said Rick Trimp, the executive director of population health 
with Saskatchewan Health.

"Due to a number of concerns that have been raised, the minister 
decided to launch a review of the needle exchange program to 
determine whether we are using the best practices for needle exchange 
in our cities," Trimp said.

Laurence Thompson Strategic Consulting will review the needle 
exchange programs in seven health regions, with the largest 
operations in the Regina Qu'Appelle, Saskatoon and Prince Albert 
Parkland health regions. The review will be finalized by December.

Thompson has a background in health services research. His previous 
positions include interim CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Quality 
Council and CEO of the Health Services Utilization and Research Commission.

Although the province's needle exchange programs are reviewed 
annually, this review will be broader in scope and focus on the 
current patterns of needle exchange and historical trends, the best 
practices for needle exchange programs and interviews with program 
administrators, clients and community-based organizations such as 
police, firefighters and schools.

During the 2007 spring cleanup, 645 loose needles were collected in 
Regina. In Saskatoon, 372 needles were picked up after the snow melted.

In the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region in 2006-07, 1.9 million 
needles were handed out and 1.861 million were returned.

In Saskatoon in 2006-07, about one million needles were issued and 
873,000 were returned.

Trimp didn't have statistics on the number of needles collected from 
playgrounds or back alleys for Prince Albert, but said 468,115 
needles were issued in that city and 424,052 were returned.

He said it's important to put the numbers in context.

"Not everybody disposes of their needles back to the needle exchange 
van," he said. "You'll see people putting them into the sharps 
containers in public washrooms or into the other sharps containers 
that are distributed around the community."

Needle exchange programs aim to reduce the sharing of unclean needles 
among injection drug users and prevent the transmission of HIV and 
other blood-borne pathogens. Saskatchewan Health recommends that if 
people find loose needles, they contact local public health offices or police.

Trimp said that since the needle exchange program was implemented in 
1999, no Saskatchewan residents have contracted HIV or hepatitis from 
a needle stick injury.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart