Canada: More Needles Given to Drug Users in Waterloo Region

The number of sterile needles distributed to injection drug users in the Waterloo Region has increased three-fold over the past five years, said health officials. The uptick reflects better service provision rather than a growth in the number of IDUs, said Karen Verhoeve of the region's public health unit.

"The demand has always been there," Verhoeve said. "It is just now that we are able to meet it better," in part because a provincial program has helped boost needle supplies and distribution.

In 2008, the region's health unit distributed 185,591 needles, a 314 percent increase from 2004, according to a Waterloo Region Public Health report on its AIDS and STD programs. The region collected 73,787 needles last year, which was a 364 increase over 2004.

Launched in 1995, the needle-exchange program helps prevent blood-borne infections among IDUs, noted the report. Besides needles, the program provides IDUs with sterile swabs, distilled water, and clean containers, in which drugs can be mixed and heated for injection. The sharing of injection equipment among IDUs can quickly transmit viruses such as hepatitis C, which is more infectious than HIV.

The region's four needle-exchange sites logged 1,647 visits, mostly repeat clients ages 25-44. Safe needle disposal services are provided through 11 community organizations, including food banks, community kitchens, and shelters.