Pubdate: Fri, 13 Feb 2009
Source: Morning Star, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 The Morning Star
Author: The Cammy LeFleur Street Nurse Outreach Program


Joel van der Molen recently wrote about the activities of Vernon's
street nurse, raising some questions likely shared by many residents
of the North Okanagan regarding drug use and needle exchange in our
area. We would like to take this time to answer some of his questions.

Needle exchange is indeed an important part of the Street nurse's
activities. The Needle Exchange Program (NEP) exists to reduce harm to
the general public as well as those who use IV drugs. It is a common
misconception that giving a clean needle to a drug-addicted person
will enable that person to use drugs. A study from Ksobiech in 2004
found that NEPs do not encourage the initiation of intravenous drug
use, increase duration of drug use or increase frequency of drug use.
To put it simply: a drug-addicted person will use drugs. The aim of
the NEP is to reduce harm to the user and the community in general
until the user is able to stop using drugs.

NEPs discourage needle sharing and therefore prevent the spread of
blood-born diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV. Studies have found that
IV drug users with access to a NEP are two to six times less likely to
risk HIV infection than users without access to such a program. The
average cost to the Canadian health care system of caring for a person
infected with HIV is over $150,000 throughout their lifetime. NEPs
save the public hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in
health care costs.

The needle exchange program in Vernon takes in 66,000 needles a year
and gives out 60,000. The math is simple: we take in more needles off
the street than we give out. Needles come from other sources and are
taken off the streets by our program. The program effectively reduces
harm to the entire community.

Mr. van der Molen began his letter with the mention of a former drug
addict who had turned her life around. Vernon is full of stories such
as these because of the NEP, which is often the first point of contact
drug users have with health and social services. The Street Nurse
Outreach Program connects drugs users to resources such as counseling
and rehabilitation services needed to turn their lives around.

The NEP isn't akin to giving an alcoholic a gift card to the liquor
store, as Mr. van der Molen suggested. Someone with drugs and a dirty
needle can still shoot up. What the NEP gives people is a chance to
make one good decision today, so that maybe tomorrow they can make
another. And maybe one day they can turn their life around, too.

The Cammy LeFleur Street Nurse Outreach Program
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin