Pubdate: Wed, 14 Dec 1999
Source:  Herald Tribune, The (CN AB)
Copyright: 1999 The Daily Herald Tribune
Contact:  Postal Bag 3000, 10604 - 100 Street, Grande Prairie, Alberta T8V 6V4
Fax: (780) 532-2120
Author: Deb Guerette


The South Peace AIDS council is reaching out with its needle exchange
program again.

Initiated in 1993, the exchange program has since been offered out of the
council's office, but maintaining an outreach worker position has been a
challenge, council executive director Brenda Moore said.

After nearly a year with no outreach service, a new worker is now in place
and ready to meet people in the community again, she said.

In 1998, 12,565 needles were given out and 75 per cent of them were returned.

Injection drug users are the highest at risk group for HIV infection.
Providing clean needles reduces the risk of contracting the AIDS virus and
safely disposes of used needles, Moore said.

"It is a harm reduction program."

"It is a huge thing not to share needles - totally huge, it is just not
safe," Moore said.

The best thing, she said, is not to inject drugs, but if people still
decide to do it, the next best thing is to use clean needles.

The outreach worker also builds a link between needle users and other
social services that may be helpful to them.

"The contact is valuable. It builds rapport with people who may at sometime
decide to get off drugs," she said.

Moore recalls a needle exchange user from a few years ago who left the
city. "(He) wrote and said thank-you, (he) was glad for the opportunity to
stay HIV free - and is now off drugs." "People do turn their lives around -
but if they become (HIV) positive, there is very little hope for them,"
Moore said.

The outreach worker can be reached by phone between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.,
Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When new needles are requested, the worker
and caller pick a meeting place and the exchange can take place, Moore said.

Staff turnover within the council, for both the executive director and
outreach worker positions - did shutdown the outreach program for some
time, but the down-time has given the agency the chance to work on some
safety issues.

"We needed to clarify some boundaries. The (outreach worker) will meet
people, but in a central public location, not in a back-alley in the middle
of the night," she said.

Public response to the program has been positive for the most part, AIDS
council and needle exchange program founder Gordon Pellerin said.

"Obviously, with the needle exchange, we were aware we might face some
public issues," Pellerin said.

When the council knew the program was going to be a go, they met with RCMP,
AADAC, Mistahia health and pharmacists to discuss issues and goals and
prepare a common response.

After the program launch Pellerin reports "there was not much negative
response, (but) there was a lot of support."

The council anticipates there will always be some faction of the community
that thinks the exchange program "supports people's drug habits," but the
benefits of the program can't be ignored, he said.

"We've known the HIV virus is in Grande Prairie for a number of years now,
(and) as people interactm, it can reach the mainstream population,"
Pellerin said.

The number of needle users the council originally estimated there are in
the community was far short of the number that actually turned up, he said.

"The number of IV users we've been in contact with is almost double what
the local (RCMP) detachment gave us" as an estimate, Pellerin said.

AADAC detox treatment and administration services manager Kathy Landry says
the high number of needle exchanges the council provides is a good sign.

"It shows that people who use IV drugs are being rather conscientious," she

The needle exchange outreach worker can be reached at 831-5646.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D