Demand Growing For Needle Exchange Services

Health officials have reported a growth in demand for needle and syringe exchange schemes (NSES) across Northern Ireland.

A total of 30,065 visits were made to exchange needles and syringes at the 21 NSES across Northern Ireland in the period between April 2017 and March 2018, the annual report by the Public Health Agency and Health and Social Care Board has revealed.

This figure demonstrates an increase in demand of 3% (782 visits) from the previous year, reinforcing the need for the scheme and good use of its facilities which help protect the wider community.

The service can be used for injecting any substance, including performance enhancement steroids, tanning agents, stimulants and opioids. Of the total visits to the NSES, 4% injected tanning agent only; 28.79% injected steroids, or steroids as well as tanning agent and opiates; and 64% injected opiates only.

The service also facilitates direct access to a health professional to connect drug users with treatment services to address their misuse.

The report shows that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust area had the highest number of visits while the Southern Trust area had the lowest number of visits.
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The PHA's Drug and Alcohol Lead, Michael Owen, said: "Needle exchange services are based in areas where there is an existing pattern of people who inject, but they benefit the entire community, not only by providing a place for injecting equipment to be safely disposed of and reducing the risk of drug-related litter, but also lowering the risk of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C within the wider population.

"For those who use the confidential service, the NSES provides them with direct access to a health professional, who can support them in engaging with treatment services to address their substance misuse."

Michael Owen continued: "Providing services locally is vital, as people who inject substances are often vulnerable, may be in poor health, dealing with complex social issues and without local access to sterile equipment and advice. Needle exchanges are particularly valuable for engaging these people, because it may be the only service they are willing to use.

"The vast majority of people who inject substances will find a way to inject it whether they can get clean needles or not. There is a serious risk to population health if these individuals share or reuse injecting equipment, which can lead to serious illness and infection.

"Making it harder for people to get clean needles would mean they are far more likely to share needles. This would hugely increase the risk of blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis B and C or HIV amongst the injecting population, and this in turn would increase the risk to the wider population, so needle exchanges have an important role to play in helping to protect not only drug users, but also the community more generally."


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