Canada: Needle Exchange Program Awaits Federal Drug Strategy
May 29, 2007
Regional public health experts are disappointed that Canada's new soon-to-be-announced national drug strategy does not include more federal money for local harm reduction efforts. Needle exchanges play a key role in limiting the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B, said Karen Verhoeve of the region's public health department, which started a program in 1995.
In 2006, the health department handed out about 4,500 needles. But after partnering with two community-based groups -- the Bridges Shelter in Cambridge and downtown Kitchener's AIDS Committee of Cambridge Kitchener Waterloo and Area -- the number of syringes exchanged has increased to the current level of 70,000 annually.
According to Verhoeve, the program appears to be working at limiting the spread of HIV. The region had 20 new HIV cases in 2006 but none were related to IV drug use. But for hepatitis C, Verhoeve and other public health officials believe as many as 50 percent to 70 percent of new cases are linked to needle sharing. An estimated 55 percent of the region's 1,175 IV drug users are infected with hepatitis C.
Teena Scofield, executive director of the region's AIDS committee, said the federal government is being short-sighted in not putting more money into harm reduction efforts like needle exchanges. Her agency distributes around 48,000 syringes and safe-injection kits a year. "It's continually building, we regularly have new people," she said of the program. "I'm very disappointed" by the flat funding, she said. "Addiction is a disease and we have a responsibility to provide these services to people in our community," she noted.
The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo)
5.26.2007; Terry Pender
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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.