Pubdate: Fri, 22 Jun 2012
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2012 The StarPhoenix
Author: Jeremy Warren
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


AIDS Saskatoon will change some of its practices, the non-profit told 
Caswell Hill and Mayfair residents at a meeting focused on its needle exchange.

Residents and business owners hosted the Thursday night meeting to 
raise concerns about the AIDS Saskatoon-operated 601 Outreach Centre 
needle exchange and dozens of people packed a Mayfair Library meeting 
room to criticize, defend and learn more about the program.

Robin Riehl is the property manager for the strip mall across the 
street from the needle exchange and he told the crowd the concerns 
are about the unwanted activity outside the outreach centre and not 
the needle exchange itself.

"It's not a moral issue for us," he said. "We're concerned about the 
responsibility that comes with needle distribution and the problems 
of not carrying out that responsibility."

A woman, who identified herself as a blind mother of two, walks her 
children to the bus stop every day and she described for the crowd 
how she is constantly harassed by people hanging around the exchange 
and the nearby pharmacy.

"I'm taunted constantly and it's destroying my life," she said. "I 
never feel safe. Who has more rights, the residents or the drug users?"

A few small changes at AIDS Saskatoon might help ease concerns of 
nearby business owners who have complained about disrespectful 
behaviour, said executive director Nicole White.

The organization is getting people to smoke in the backyard area of 
its property rather than the street and will encourage clients to use 
their needles at home, White told the crowd.

But some of its policies might be working fine. Karla Griffin moved 
to Caswell Hill fives years ago and she frequently found dirty 
needles in the neighbourhood. But since the needle exchange opened 3 
1/2 years ago, she rarely finds used needles, she told the crowd.

"It seems like all of this has come about because people just found 
out that the needle exchange exists," Griffin said later.

Needles exchanges are important in the fight against HIV/AIDS, said 
Dr. Johnmark Opondo, deputy medical health officer for the Saskatoon 
Health Region, which helps fund the exchange. HIV rates are going 
down in Saskatoon and area, to 65 new cases in 2011 from 94 in 2009, 
Opondo said.

"In health care, you want evidence and best practices to guide health 
policies and that's what we are doing," Opondo said.
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