Pubdate: Sat, 27 Jun 2015
Source: Cambridge Times (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 Metroland
Author: Melissa Murray


WATERLOO REGION - Almost 100,000 additional needles were distributed 
through Waterloo Region's needle syringe program during 2014.

Public Health's annual report highlights that more than 454,000 
needles were given out last year to more than 7,000 clients.

According to Lesley Rintche, manager of sexual health and harm 
reduction with the region's public health department, expansion and 
increased awareness of the program led to more participants and 
contributed to the higher number of needles handed out last year.

"It's obvious there is a need in our community," Rintche said of the program.

"Some people are going to injection drugs faster, and we are keeping 
an eye on that and it's an issue in our community. I think that 
people need to be aware it is an issue and that it's not going away."

While increased usage of the program means it's less likely people 
are sharing needles, it also means there are more people in the 
community struggling with drug use, she said.

For the region's size, the number of needles distributed through the 
program is comparable to other communities, if not a little lower.

The harm reduction program's aim is to provide clean needles to help 
reduce the spread of diseases like hepatitis, HIV and other 
blood-borne illnesses.

"We would all love for there not to be a need for this, but we know 
that that is unlikely and we know there are people that need our help.

"We need to help them and the old messages of 'say no to drugs' - 
they don't work, so we need to look at it from a harm reduction strategy."

Rintche compared that message to telling people not to drink, saying 
instead the message is to drink responsibly - an idea similar to what 
the needle exchange program offers.

And the program is working, she believes.

"We have lower than the provincial average of blood-borne infections. 
You still see numbers, but they are not high."

In 2008, there were 21 new cases of HIV in Waterloo Region, in 2013 
there were 14. According to a public health report, the rate is 
significantly lower than the provincial average. There were 100 cases 
of hepatitis C reported in 2013 in the region, with the biggest risk 
factor (49 per cent) being injection drug use, followed by inhalation 
drug use. The rate of hepatitis C infections is also below the 
provincial average.

But which way the numbers will trend can't be predicted, Rintche said.

All she hopes is that if people are using injection drugs, they 
participate in the program and not share needles.

Part of the region's Integrated Drugs Strategy looks at reducing the 
number of drug users by creating and referring people to programs and 
services, and eliminating "problematic substance abuse and its consequences."

Of the 99 recommendations, 23 are related to harm reduction.

In order to increase the visibility of the needle exchange program, 
public health officials have prepared council reports, posted 
information on websites, shared information in schools and promoted 
the message on social media, but it is a goal within the drugs 
strategy to increase education and awareness even more.

"It's an unfortunate thing, but if people do have drug addictions, or 
whatever they have, it's nice to be able to get a clean needle, but 
my worry has always been what do you do with it afterwards," said 
Regional Coun. Geoff Lorentz, who chairs the region's Community 
Services Committee.

Regional council is looking at a tamper-proof public disposal unit. 
Information about the disposal units is expected to come back to 
council later this fall.

"We are going to look at an outdoor permanent goof-proof sites where 
they can dispose of these things in a safe manner," he said.

"People have different needs and that's OK."

The needle exchange program has distribution locations in Kitchener, 
Cambridge and Waterloo.

For more information about the program and the locations it is 
offered, visit .
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