Pubdate: Sat, 13 Feb 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: Kristy Kirkup
Page: A10


OTTAWA- The Liberal government should implement prison-based needle
and syringe programs to address rates of HIV and hepatitis C estimated
to be 10 to 30 times higher than in the general population, proponents

Emily van der Meulen of Ryerson University, the lead author of a
recent study, said she wants to see the government review evidence on
the effectiveness of programs that have operated in countries like
Switzerland for more than 20 years.

"I'm hopeful that the government will look to this evidence, as well
as to our recent research report," she said.

The issue is about health and human rights, she noted, adding that
prisons where such programs have been implemented have seen
substantial benefits, including reduced rates of needle-sharing and

It would also be cost-effective, she said.

"The costs associated with HIV and hepatitis C virus are very high in
prison - roughly $30,000 per year for HIV treatment and about $60,000
for hepatitis C," she said.

"Research has shown that needle and syringe programs are among the
most cost-effective health measures for people who use drugs, whether
in the community or in prison."

Canada lags behind on implementing such programs, said Sandra Ka Hon
Chu of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "We have the resources in
Canada to implement these programs," she said.

"We have the evidence in Canada to implement these programs. There are
many groups across the country who support these programs."

As the implementation push continues, the issue is playing out in
court. A former prisoner, along with organizations including the HIV/
AIDS legal network, filed a lawsuit against the government in
September 2012 because it did not make needles and syringes available
in prison to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, prison watchdog Howard Sapers
said his office has previously recommended that the Correctional
Service of Canada explore all harm reduction options, including needle
exchange programs. There are particular issues related to
incarceration that accelerate the spread of infectious diseases,
especially those that are blood-borne, Sapers said.

"You have a high density of people living in fairly confined spaces.
You also have contraband drug use, often injectable drug use. You have
prison tattooing and you also have sexual contact. All of these
activities really increase the chances of spreading disease and we see
that manifest in things like HIV rates which are much higher inside an
institution than they are in the community outside the institution,
and hepatitis rates."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt