Letter: Needle exchange programs necessary

Editor:

Re: RCMP raid needle site (Feb. 23 issue of the Grand Forks Gazette)

Needle exchange programs are part of a comprehensive harm reduction approach to minimizing harms associated with drug use.

There is scientific evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of syringe exchange and outreach programs.  Needle programs are a first point of contact to health and social services for people who live in the margins of society as a result of stigma related to use of illicit drugs.

These programs alter harmful conditions surrounding drug use, such as reducing sharing of equipment, unequal access to health services, social discrimination, exposure to street and relationship violence, inadequate housing, lack of employment and poor physical or mental health.

ANKORS (AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society) has responded to the needs of people regarding HIV/AIDS and hepatitis since 1992.

The needle exchange program began in 1998 following consultations with citizens and agencies including public health, mental health, addiction services, RCMP and others throughout the Kootenay/Boundary. Local services are minimal due to financial constraints and the absence of an agency willing to provide fixed-site services.

To increase access, ANKORS and other organizations train and support people who are concerned about the spread of infection and are willing to offer secondary exchange.  Historically, these citizens are referred to as Natural Helpers.

“Informal” needle exchanges are a vital part of harm reduction programs.  It’s obvious from supplies found at the home in Grand Forks that those living there were working to keep people safe from the transmission of blood-borne infections.

Some have referred to items found, such as clean syringes, saline solution, alcohol swabs etc., as “offence-related property” – this is misleading.

Harm reduction supplies are provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control and are not illegal.  Decrease in rates of HIV and hepatitis in recent years are largely due to Needle Exchange services.

It’s easy to scapegoat people who use drugs and to sensationalize drug activity.  Sometimes it’s difficult for communities to realize that those who use drugs may also be making a positive contribution by assisting others to be safe.

Alex Sherstobitoff, ANKORS