Pubdate: Wed, 07 Oct 2009
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2009 Osprey Media
Author: Roland Cilliers, Today Staff
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


How are needle drug users better than your average library user? In
Fort McMurray, they always return their borrowed needles.

The local needle exchange program has completed its six-month
evaluation and has shown a 100% return rate. Since the Wood Buffalo
HIV and AIDS Society opened the site, the program has handed out over
700 needles as well as other harm reduction supplies.

Nor'Ali McDaniel, needle exchange program co-ordinator, said the
exchange program gives users a proper place to dispose of used needles
in a way that they don't end up in places like neighbourhood parks.

"There's always controversy when needle exchange programs open that
we're just handing out needles and not doing anything to collect
them," said McDaniel. "We always tell our clients when they come in,
'Here's your sharps container, please bring it back to us.' We also
work with some of the camps as well, and they bring (the needles) back
to us so what it means is the needles we are distributing are not
being accounted for in the debris found on the streets."

The goal of the needle exchange program is to reduce the spread of
blood-borne diseases like HIV in drug users by providing them with
clean needles that don't need to be shared. The program also has the
benefit of giving drug users access to a place that will help them
quit their habit.

"Quite often needle exchange programs are the first place where people
who use drugs develop a sense of trust with people in the service
industry," McDaniel said. "Coming to see us face-to-face on a weekly
basis just builds the trust so they know there's someone there not
judging them who can help them when they're ready to get on track at
their own pace and continue with their lives."

The needle exchange program also provides items that increase
sanitation in the use of injection drugs like filters, tourniquets,
single-use cookers and alcohol swabs.

The Fort McMurray program is based on similar long-running programs in
other Alberta cities like Edmonton, Calgary and Grande Prairie.

Future plans of the local organization include the development of
needle disposal boxes. The boxes would look and operate like mail
boxes in areas where drug users are known to spend time and act as a
location for needle disposal.

"The issue of needles has been ignored in Fort McMurray for a long
time. They have been found in our parks, our streets and our
neighbourhoods and it's really an issue of addressing it and no longer
ignoring it," said McDaniel. "Needle exchanges are not the only place
where drug users or diabetics are getting their syringes, but we want
to make sure there is a place for them to be disposed of correctly
rather than out on the street and in the parks."

For more information on the local needle exchange program, visit the
centre above Campbell's Music on Franklin Avenue or on their website
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D