Needle exchanges jump among local drug users
Guelph Mercury ( Ontario , Canada )
May 6, 2006 Saturday
BY FIONA ISAACSON, MERCURY STAFF
Traffic at local needle-exchange sites has gone up, but
the people who operate those sites say that's not
necessarily a bad thing. And they say trying to understand
the surge in demand would violate the privacy of those who
use the sites.
Taking a proactive approach to understand the climbing
numbers "would be breaching the way we do that business,"
said Elaine Scott, who deals with adolescent and sexual
health programs at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public
"What would happen with that is that they would go
underground," she said. "Because they don't want to be
hassled, they would find another (outlet) or they would
start sharing, using needles that are not appropriate."
The needle-exchange program aims to reduce rate of
diseases like AIDS, Hepatitis B and C among people who
inject drugs. The program is run through the public health
unit, which provides clean needles at five locations in
Guelph and one in Orangeville.
The number of needles handed out grew almost 75 per cent
in the first three months of this year compared to the
same period in 2005. Almost 6,000 needles were given out
in the first quarter of this year, compared to nearly
3,500 in the first three months of last year.
"It's a positive thing if it's just more people accessing
the services and making sure they're using clean
equipment, or it could be a bad thing that more people are
using drugs. I kind of doubt that's the case," said B.J.
Caldwell, who works on HIV/AIDS prevention at the AIDS
Committee of Guelph and Wellington County , one of the
sites that participate in the needle exchange.
That particular site did not see a surge in numbers,
workers said yesterday.
The public health unit will be watching the numbers over
the next few months, but Scott said there could be myriad
reasons for the increase.
Guelph is a growing city, she said. There may be more
people who have heard about the program or some people may
have switched to a drug that requires a needle.
"While we're taking notice, and we're interested, I'm not
feeling like it's something that I have to somehow
institute some kind of measures to try and get to the
bottom of this," she said.
However, this summer, the health unit is participating in
a federally funded study that will talk to 100 local drug
users to see whether the services are adequate or need to
Caldwell said he thinks crack cocaine, aside from
marijuana, is probably the most common drug in the city.
"What the area needs is a complete surveillance, a really
good drug surveillance. . . . Definitely, I think that
would be a really useful tool," he said.
Many people don't understand how important harm reduction
is and how it can save money for the health-care system,
"It's much cheaper to prevent someone from getting Hep C .
. . or HIV or any other blood-borne pathogen than it is to
spend over the course of that person's life now dealing
with chronic illness," he said.
Harm reduction is a way of minimizing the harm people
might suffer when they're doing something. It often refers
to programs that help drug users kick their habits or use
drugs more safely.
Caldwell says people know they're not being judged when
people come in to get needles.
"It opens up the door to people who are still using and
not thinking about quitting to come in and access
services, to access things to keep them safe," he said.
Staff are available to talk to and to help clients find
treatment if they want, he said.
The program handed out an average of 4,500 needles in each
quarter of 2005.
The needle exchange program started in 1999.