Pubdate: Sat, 22 Oct 2016
Source: Prince Albert Daily Herald (CN SN)
Copyright: 2016 Prince Albert Daily Herald
Author: Arthur White-Crummey
Page: 3


A new program has started up to help tackle the city's discarded
needle problem.

In the realm of tongue-twisting health acronyms, CHANGE is one of the
worst offenders.

It stands for Community, Harm Reduction, Needle Pickup, Guidance and
Education, and it's the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region's newest
strategy to reduce discarded needles in the community.

Formed late this September, the CHANGE team goes to "hotspots" for IV
drug use, places where large numbers of discarded syringes tend to
litter public places.

The team consists of an outreach worker and a nurse. They dress up in
protective equipment and puncture-proof boots and deploy their
extendotongs to pick up as many needles as possible.

"They are going to certain locations in Prince Albert where we have
received community feedback, where discarded needles might be, and we
are going out and proactively picking those needles up," said Steve
Mah, manager of Access Place, Prince Albert's go-to facility for
sexual health, addiction and harm reduction services.

Access Place staff have always responded to community complaints about
discarded needles, Mah said, but the CHANGE team's role is more
proactive: remove the needles before they become a nuisance to neighbours.

But that's not all the team does. When they find people camped out in
the hotspots, they check in to see if they're getting the help they

"We are engaging clients to see if they need assistance in terms of
basic first aid, connections to services or reconnection to care,"
said Mah.

That help could go even further, since Access Place case workers help
their clients connect with housing or addictions counselling and
provide information on how to stay safe.

The strategy should help defer criticism that the health region, and
particularly Access Place's needle exchange, isn't doing enough to
stop syringes from winding up in the city.

Mah and his needle exchange outreach worker have a map that lays out
their targets. They try to hit two or three each time they deploy the
team, about twice a month. Each hotspot has a code name to ease
communication. It makes the work sound like a paramilitary operation:
CHANGE team to hotspot Lima!

The first CHANGE team mission hit the train tracks behind Access
Place, Mah said. Overpasses have also proven fruitful targets.

"When they went out they found a good amount of needles, especially
when they're going to viaduct areas, under an overpass, areas that are
maybe sheltered and secure," Mah said. "They've been finding more
discarded syringes in places where people might be out of sight."

The E in CHANGE stands for education, and that's an important piece of
the puzzle. When the team educates clients, they talk about the
importance of returning needles.

"When it comes to the harm reduction component," Mah said, "we talk
about the importance not only of utilizing the supplies, but the
importance of dropping them off at safe bins or utilizing our program
as a safe drop-off site."

And it's important to note that Access Place is not just a needle
exchange - not even close. They offer a range of services, from HIV
testing and treatment and counselling to antiretroviral treatment and
a baby formula program for HIV-positive mothers.

They even have a drop-in program, known as "The Gate," where people
who've long lived with HIV help others cope, particularly those who've
just learned their diagnosis. They're like HIV mentors, but Access
Place calls them "peers."

"They perform art and are very encouraging to the clients who come
in," Mah said. "They bring that lived experience piece and that's an
invaluable asset to our clinic. They are wonderful representatives
here at Access Place."
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MAP posted-by: Matt