Pubdate: Fri, 17 Apr 2009
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2009 The StarPhoenix
Author: John Gormley


As a leader in "needle hysteria" -- as it's being dubbed by a public 
health official -- it's time to put my cards on the table.

Last year, my News Talk 650 radio show revealed some obscene numbers 
- -- Saskatoon hands out to drug addicts roughly the same number of 
needles as Edmonton and Calgary combined.

At more than one million needles, we are dwarfed by Regina's 2.3 
million and, when smaller Saskatchewan cities are taken into account, 
the province's tally of free needles tops four million.

We did this accounting at the urging of an unnamed Saskatoon 
inner-city youth worker fed up with a system that has run amok and is 
drastically different from the early 1990s, when some semblance of 
sanity still existed in needle exchange programs.

Drug addiction is a painful, soul-destroying mental and public health 
issue. It reaches into crime, prostitution and broken lives.

 From methadone programs to carefully managed needle exchanges, there 
is value in helping addicts stabilize as they get the help they need. 
This involves painful and often expensive programs providing guidance 
and support to addicts. From regular contact to detox, it takes 
intake workers, counsellors and social workers guided by the 
principle that not doing drugs is better than doing them.

And that's just the start.

 From detox must come longer treatment options along with the 
constant reinforcement of accountability and the follow-up support to 
stay off drugs and address the underlying cognitive and life issues 
that knock people off the path of being drug-free.

In the absence of enough money and a workable plan, it's 
superficially attractive -- particularly when egged on by various 
do-gooders -- to take the cheap way by handing out fistfuls of 
needles at 10 cents a pop.

 From AIDS and disease prevention to "out of sight out of mind," 
there's a good game being talked about harm reduction by keeping 
addicts shooting up.

But exactly whose harm is being reduced by distributing more than a 
million needles in Saskatoon? Are the drug users injecting less 
poison and despair? Are addicts not dying of overdoses and high-risk 
life choices? What about drug dealers who get their hands on dozens 
of free needles at a time so they can sell pre-loaded syringes of 
Ritalin, morphine and cocaine?

Perhaps the community's harm is being reduced? It isn't. Every 
spring, thousands of used needles litter parks, schoolyards and 
public walking and boating areas.

Aside from an infection risk, a child being stabbed by a needle is 

Yet we are confidently assured that while it's a hard thing for us -- 
the unwashed -- to understand, handing out needles by the million is 
actually vital because it reduces HIV infections by nearly one-third 
and that is the harm being reduced.

So how does this explain the recently reported 40 per cent increase 
in Saskatoon AIDS cases, mainly from intravenous drug use?

Following the logic of the AIDS activist and needle lobby, we're 
evidently not handing out enough needles yet.

A recent and disappointing study from the provincial government 
explained, "for reasons that are not clear," Saskatchewan has a much 
higher frequency of injected drugs than our neighbouring provinces, 
where addicts more commonly smoke drugs.

The report also pointed out Alberta and Manitoba hand out a fraction 
of the needles that Saskatchewan does.

Did it happen to click in anyone's cerebral cortex that when millions 
of needles are comped by government there might actually be an 
incentive to use them to shoot up, where fewer needles might have 
addicts resorting to smoking drugs instead?

Hearing the indignation over this "needle hysteria" coming from those 
who make a living handing out philosophy and needles brings to mind 
the words of the great philosopher Mel Brooks: "We've got to protect 
our phony baloney jobs."

But maybe these jobs can be made more meaningful.

It's clear drug users are not accountable for safely disposing of 
their needles, as about 100,000 needles remain unaccounted for in 
Saskatoon each year.

The preferred method of picking up used needles is to send out highly 
trained and well-qualified firefighters, who pull up in large rescue 
units to gather needles -- last year finding 25,000 spent syringes.

In rebutting needle hysteria, public health officials assure us no 
one has ever contracted a disease from being pricked by a needle in 
Saskatchewan and only two people outside of the health system were 
even jabbed by discarded needles.

So maybe all this needle stuff just isn't that big of a problem, they suggest.

That being the case, the annual cleanup of used needles could be so 
much simpler. Maybe the activists and people actually handing out a 
million needles should be made responsible for picking them up from 
our public spaces.

That way our kids could get into the parks earlier and safer.

Gormley can be heard Monday to Friday at 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on NewsTalk 650
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart