Pubdate: Sat, 14 Jul 2012
Source: Prince Albert Daily Herald (CN SN)
Copyright: 2012 Prince Albert Daily Herald
Author: Layne Lysitza


About a month ago I was by the museum in Prince Albert taking photos
for my sister's wedding and I noticed four used needles lying on the
ground in a small space.

It made me wonder if the needle exchange program really is working.
There aren't a lot of places you can go without finding a used needle
in public view. Even a couple days ago, I was working by St. Mary
School and I saw three within 30 feet of the school.

Most people I talk to about this issue have often seen needles in
public view. This is a matter of concern for me as HIV/AIDS cases have
risen to twice the national average in Saskatchewan over the past
seven years.

Seventy-five per cent of all HIV/AIDS cases in Saskatchewan are
contracted from needle injections. So all these needles lying on the
ground are potential risks to the general public.

Are we doing enough with this issue with regards to public

Currently in Saskatchewan, there are 18 needle exchange sites that
exchange approximately four million needles per year.

Only 90 per cent of these needles are safety returned to these sites,
which means approximately 40,000 possibly disease-carrying needles are
unaccounted for.

While the needle exchange strategy does help the users it really
doesn't help the general public, just the people injecting themselves.
It does help the spread of needle-related diseases like hepatitis and
HIV because needles aren't being shared.

If the needle is exchanged or dropped into the needle drop box the
risk of spreading the disease is nullified. If the needle is left on
the street or in a higher traffic area then the risk of disease to
general public is apparent.

Is 90 per cent exchange rate of needles good enough? Or should we be
exploring other options?

One option is safe injection sites. Vancouver is the only city in
Canada that currently has a fully functioning safe injection site
where they employ nurses and counsellors or support staff.

The drugs are injected at this site and the needles are disposed of
there, never reaching the streets. Their results have been fairly
positive since it opened in 2003.

There hasn't been a fatal overdose yet at the site and fatal overdoses
have dropped by 35 per cent in the immediate surrounding area. In
2010, their support staff made more than 5,000 referrals to health
services and 458 on-site admissions with a 43 per cent completion
rate. Not only are they keeping the needles off the street they are
reducing the amount of drug addicts in this area.

The injection site also has strong support from the Vancouver Police

There is also strong opposition for safe injection sites because tax
dollars are spent to help drug users and it basically condones drug
use. If injection sites were to be set up there is the morality issue
because it's a place built for people using drugs that are illegal.
For the most part most drug users had a choice to start taking or
injecting drugs into their bodies.

Many of us had the same choices of whether to take drugs and said no.
Why should the taxpayer have to foot the bill for drug users? They are
valid concerns but it's the issue of public safety.

I'm not a bleeding heart who overly sympathizes with drug users and it
bothers me that our health system pays out $21 million to $42 million
to treat HIV patients in Saskatchewan yearly that 75 per cent
reportedly comes from needles.

As a person who plans on being a father someday (next 10-20 years) I
am in mild support of safe injection sites. It's for the same reason I
am for much stronger punishment for sex offenders (I will write about
this soon) and stiffer sentences all around for criminals.

I want the next generation and future generations to be able to play
in the park or anywhere outside without having a parent or supervisor
check the ground for needles first (I know that wasn't something that
was done for me as a child).

I could also do without the visual of people seeing someone injecting
drugs in a public view. With the apparent success of these programs in
British Columbia and the unanimous support of the Canadian Supreme
Court, it's only a matter of time before there is a strong push in
Saskatchewan for safe injection sites.

With what I have seen and others have told me they have seen it an
option we should at least entertain. I don't believe 40,000 needles
unaccounted for that are possibly on the streets is something we can
consider an overwhelmingly successful program. 
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