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International News

HIV Expert Urges Creation of Needle Exchange in Canada's Prisons

October 25, 2011

Prison-based needle-exchange programs (NEPs) could help reduce the high rate of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections among Canada's prisoners, a senior analyst testified during an Oct. 20 House of Commons standing committee meeting. The level of HIV among Canadian prisoners is at least 10 times greater than in the general population, and the HCV rate is at least 20 times greater, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network reported last year.

"Prison health is public health. There's no reason to treat prisoners any differently than people in the community who are struggling with addiction," the network's Sandra Ka Hon Chu told the committee on public safety and national security, which was discussing drug use in federal prisons.


However, Tory MP Candice Hoeppner countered that the proposal for prison-based NEPs "completely ignored" the safety of prison staff and would help "inmates who are addicted to drugs access more drugs and access paraphernalia to administer those drugs against the safety of officers." "How can you practically say, and try to make us believe, that needles would not be used as weapons against officers?" she asked.

NEPs have been introduced in more than 60 prisons worldwide, including in Switzerland, Germany, and Spain. In nearly two decades of existence, needles issued by prison NEPs have never been used as weapons, Chu said.

"Although people who inject drugs may inject less frequently in prisons, the scarcity of sterile syringes and the punitive consequences of drug use mean prisoners resort to using non-sterile injecting equipment," the network's report said. "A needle may circulate among large numbers of prisoners who inject drugs, thereby increasing the risk of transmission of HIV and HCV."

Canada's prison ombudsman, Howard Sapers, advocated for prison-based NEPs in his 2005-06 report.

Back to other news for October 2011

Adapted from:
Ottawa Citizen
10.21.2011; Douglas Quan

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: Canada

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