Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jul 1999
Source: Illawarra Mercury (Australia)
Copyright: Illawarra Newspapers
Page: W4
Author: Lisa Sewell
Note: Appeared in Weekender insert


Needle exchange centres, like the proposed shooting galleries, were
not welcomed with open arms by the community.

Needle and syringe programs, however, have operated successfully
within the Illawarra and South Coast for more than 11 years.

The programs, initiated by the Illawarra Area Health Service through
its Drug and Alcohol HIV/AIDS Service, provide clean injecting
equipment to more than 1400 Illawarra and South Coast drug users each

Along with the equipment, the centre's staff hand out a variety of
educational materials, act as a referral service to other programs,
and provide a friendly face to a group that is often snubbed by society.

The head office for the service is at Rawson St, Wollongong, and from
there eight subsidiary services are run throughout the Illawarra and
South Coast, predominantly in community health centres.

The centre's acting service manager Alan Wright said the centre had
multiple aims.

``The first aim of the service is HIV/AIDS prevention within this
community group (drug users), and by supplying people with clean
injecting equipment we are able to keep the number of infections in
the area to a minimum,'' he said.

``We are also here to provide information and educational material and
also act as a referral service - on most days we refer people to
crisis accommodation or a suitable medical health organisation.

``We work under the banner of harm reduction and use evidence-based
best practice strategies at all times.''

Mr Wright said although there had been some opposition, the service
had integrated into the community with few complications.

``The centre was set up with consultation with surrounding businesses
and through close working partnerships we've managed to build good
relationships with those neighbouring businesses,'' he said.

``In fact much of the success of the program is due to the
collaborative partnerships we have formed with local businesses,
councils, police, youth groups and health services.''

Ideally, Mr Wright said, users would bring back their used needles for
safe disposal - although the service would pick up and deliver
syringes. However, on occasions when members of the community came
across used syringes, he urged them to contact the centre.

``We are very responsive to the community's needs and concerns
regarding the needle and syringe program and are more than happy to
talk to people about issues, such as unsafe disposal.''

Mr Wright said that the sheer numbers using the centre emphasised the
need for such a service.

``When the service first started we had 10 clients, the service is now
used by about 1400 return clients per month throughout the Illawarra
and South Coast. The increase in figures shows the service works,'' he

``I would not like to think of what would happen without the service,
but I feel that if drug users don't have access to clean injecting
equipment or safe sex paraphernalia it would be detrimental to the
area's community health.

``Our clients are just people in the grips of a terrible addiction,
and they need the services and resources that centres like ours can
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MAP posted-by: Derek Rea