Pubdate: Fri, 18 Jul 2008
Source: Regina Leader-Post (CN SN)
Webpage: Copyright: 2008 The Leader-Post Ltd.
Author: Pamela Cowan


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 Regina Qu'Appelle, Saskatoon and Prince Albert 
Parkland. 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 annually 
reviewed, this one 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, primarily in the city's North Central, Core and Transition 
areas. 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.

"We've been pretty consistent in our return rates. If you look at 
that number for Regina, that's a 98-per-cent return rate, which is 
actually very good when compared to others across the country," Trimp said.

"The numbers have increased a bit because the program is becoming 
more integrated in the community. There's the mobile vans that are 
set up in some of these areas where there's known intravenous drug 
users. Now there's a comfort level with those intravenous drug users 
coming to the van and it's not only a needle exchange. There's also 
other public health programs that are delivered through these vans 
such as counselling and different prevention type activities -- 
handing out of information or even counselling some of the people who 
are intravenous drug users on public safety and their safety."

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 are geared to reduce the sharing of unclean 
needles among injection drug users and prevent the transmission of 
HIV and other blood-borne pathogens. Sask Health recommends that if 
people find loose needles they should 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.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart