Pubdate: Mon, 17 Aug 2009
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 The Record
Author: Frances Barrick, Staff Writer

Health Unit Handing Out Three Times More Needles To Drug Users

The number of needles given to intravenous drug users in Waterloo
Region to prevent the spread of diseases has increased by three-fold
over the past five years, a regional report shows.

But public health officials say it doesn't mean there are more drug
users in the region, but rather a provincial program has improved the
supply and distribution of these needles.

"The demand has always been there. It is just now that we are able to
meet it better," said Karen Verhoeve of the region's public health

Last year, the public health unit handed out 185,591 needles and
collected 73,787 needles.

This represents a 314 per cent increase in the number of needles
distributed and a 364 per cent increase in the number of needles
collected compared to 2004, says the public health unit's 2008 report
on its AIDS and STD programs.

The needle exchange program plays an important role in preventing the
spread of viruses causing AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, the
report says.

Started in 1995, this program allows intravenous drug users to bring
in used needles, and receive clean ones, sterile swabs and distilled
water. They are also provided with a clean cooker - a container where
drugs are mixed with water and heated in preparation for injection.

When drug users share needles they can quickly transmit deadly
viruses. Hepatitis C, which destroys the liver, is 10 times more
infectious than HIV.

The region has four sites for its needle-exchange program. They are
the health unit offices in Waterloo and Cambridge, as well as the
Bridges Shelter in Cambridge and the Kitchener office of the AIDS
Committee of Cambridge Kitchener Waterloo and Area.

There were a total of 1,647 visits at the four clinics. Most were
repeat visits and the majority of people ranged in age from 25 to 44.

The health unit also has 11 community agencies that provide safe
disposal of drug use equipment. They include food banks, community
kitchens, shelters and churches that provide emergency food and
shelter during the winter. 
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