Source: London Free Press 
Contact:  December 13, 1997 
Author: Morris Dalla Costa 
Author email:  


By Morris Dalla Costa  London Free Press

She doesn't make any apologies for being a drug addict. Her goal, as with
most other addicts, is to get off the morphine, crystal meth or whatever
drugs she injects into her body.

Her apartment is a meeting place for others like her. When they do meet,
she uses the opportunity to collect used needles and hand out fresh ones. 

"There's a very underground drug scene here," says Beth, "a lot bigger than
people imagine. It's very secret, very buried." 

Toronto? Montreal? Windsor? How about London, Ont.? 

Beth, 20, came to London from Kingston a year and a half ago "to get off
drugs." "When I came here I thought it would be easier but it hasn't been,"
she said. "I actually quit for six months but then I got back on it. I
usually go on binges for two weeks. Right now I'm just trying to stable out
my life. I would like to reduce the use, but right now that's not where
it's at." 

Beth is an intravenous drug user. She knows the dangers, she knows how hard
it is to quit. In her own way though, she's decided to do what she can to
help keep addicts as safe as possible. 

She's one of several users who act as agents to make sure others use clean
needles and know how to inject drugs properly. 


It's all part of a littleknown yet highly successful and important service
provided by the MiddlesexLondon Health Unit and the AIDS Committee of

The Counterpoint Needles Exchange program is helping keep addicts safe from
a variety of diseases caused by using dirty needles, including AIDS. 

The arguments against the program are predictable. It isn't a program that
provides the warm and fuzzies. Critics claim it encourages illegal drug use. 

One does what one has to do to make things better. No, this isn't a pretty
Christmas story about a happy family, sitting by the tree, opening presents. 

On Christmas Day, hundreds of addicts in London, some of them on the
street, some in flop houses, some in highclass neighborhoods, will be
shooting up. 

"The reality is no one is going to get off drugs until they are ready,"
said Beth. "They'll do whatever they can to get a rig. "I've seen people do
a lot of stupid things, including sharing needles and using dirty needles.
I've seen a lot of friends get sick with hepatitis and die with AIDS. That
doesn't need to happen." 

The program is administered by the health unit and AIDS committee, but
needle exchange services are also available at the Youth Action Centre and
STD Clinic. Condoms are also distributed. 

People like Beth are important to the program because users are frightened
they'll be recognized by going to pick up clean paraphernalia. She acts as
a street connection. 

There's no questioning the program's success. In 199596, 5,164 needles
were distributed with 6,267 needles returned. 

In 199697, 29,471 needles were distributed with 28,440 returned. There
were 773 contacts made. 

Every clean needle used means one less chance an addict will get sick, one
less chance of losing a life. Every needle returned means one less needle
left on the ground. 

Every contact means one more opportunity to let the user know programs are
available when they are ready to quit. 

"People don't understand because they haven't been there," said Beth.
"People think because you stick a needle in your arm, you are trash, you
don't deserve to live. "We're not trash." 

Thank goodness there's a program that understands.