Times Colonist: 'Dying for a Needle Exchange'

The failure to find a location for a needle exchange has resulted in unnecessary deaths, millions of dollars in avoidable health-care costs and increased drug use and disorder.

It's a high price to pay for our squeamishness and lack of will.

The University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research has tracked drug use in Victoria and Vancouver since 2007. A report this month looked at the impact of the 2008 closure of the fixed needle exchange, leaving the region without such a centre for the first time in 20 years.

The findings are all bad news. Only 10 per cent of those surveyed reported sharing needles before the exchange closed; that increased to 23 per cent once the service ended. The rate in Vancouver was relatively stable at eight per cent.

Sharing needles spreads infections, particularly hepatitis C and HIV. The lifetime cost of treating a person with HIV can be up to $600,000. The increased sharing of needles and the re-use of needles has increased health costs and suffering.

The study also found after the needle exchange closed there was more open drug use and more discarded needles.

And it found daily injection drug use increased in Victoria after the needle exchange closed, while it was falling in Vancouver. That might reflect the impact of needle exchange personnel who counsel clients on harm reduction, the centre reported.

The idea of needle exchanges offends some people. Potential neighbours are uneasy.

But the evidence shows this two-year-old public health failure is costly, deadly and destructive to the community.

The report recommends an immediate end to the "no-go zone" that bars mobile needle exchange efforts from the city's core. It also recommends the creation of one or more fixed needle exchanges.

Inaction, in the face of the facts, would be foolish and immoral.

[from Times Colonist, September 4, 2010: http://www.timescolonist.com/health/Dying+needle+exchange/3482617/story.html#ixzz0ym7sGddL]