Demand For Needle Exchange Schemes On The Rise

A significant growth in demand for needle and syringe exchange schemes (NSES) emerged last year, new figures have revealed.

A total of 33,992 visits to NSES schemes were made during 2018/19, a 13% growth on the previous year, the Public Health Agency figures confirm.

The services help stop the spread of infection from drug-related litter and the sharing of equipment among drug users.

A total of 21 pharmacy and community exchange projects operated throughout the year. The service was also provided by one Drug Outreach Team in Belfast and one Community Addiction Team in Ballymena.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust area had the highest number of visits (62%) and the Southern HSCT area the lowest number of visits (4%).

However, pharmacies in the Southern HSCT area experienced the largest percentage rise in visits – up 33% – on the previous year, while the Western HSCT area noted a drop of 13% in demand compared to the previous year.

Of the total visits to the NSES, 3% injected tanning agent only; 23% injected steroids, or steroids as well as tanning agent and opiates; and 69% injected opiates only.

NSES are based in areas where there is an existing pattern of people who inject, but the scheme benefits 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.

PHA Regional Lead for Drugs and Alcohol, Michael Owens said the spike in demand demonstrates a growing need for the scheme.
News Image
"The vast majority of people who inject substances – which includes people who inject steroids, tanning agents, opioids and stimulants – will find a way to inject it whether they can get clean needles or not," he commented. "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.

"The needle and syringe exchange schemes help support the health and wellbeing of our whole community and provide those who inject substances with a confidential service and direct access to a health professional, who can help them in engaging with treatment services to address their drug misuse.

"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 and provides us with opportunities to sign-post people to additional support and information."

Anyone who injects substances can use a needle exchange service, and this includes people who inject substances such as performance enhancement steroids, tanning agents, stimulants and opioids.


Related Northern Ireland News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

18 March 2020
Latest Coronavirus Figures Emerge
A further six coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Northern Ireland as the first and deputy First Ministers call for a "whole of society" approach. Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill say measures to support and protect the general public will only be effective if everyone follows health advice. The new cases bring totals to 68.
18 March 2020
Woman Arrested In Patient Abuse Probe
A 28 year-old woman has been arrested by detectives investigating allegations of ill-treatment at Muckamore Abbey Hospital. The suspect was detained in Antrim this morning, Wednesday 18 March. It comes amid allegations of patient abuse at the facility, where people with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs are cared for.
19 March 2020
Covid-19: Surge Plan Measures Revealed
The Department of Health is implementing a number of surge plan measures to manage the growing transmission of Covid-19 across Northern Ireland. Two key measures in the plan are the purchase of 40 new ventilators to boost availability to 179 by the end of March and the acceleration of testing to 800 per day.
18 March 2020
Other News In Brief
North West 200 Postponed Organisers of the North West 200 have announced the postponement of this year's race week. The event, scheduled for the week beginning 10 May, has been pushed back amid concerns and restrictions around the current public health situation.
18 March 2020
Leisure Facilities Closed Across Belfast
Leisure centres and community facilities across Belfast have been closed as measures to combat the spread of coronavirus are ramped up. St George's Market, the Ulster Hall and the ICC Belfast are among those affected. City Hall has closed to the public with tours suspended and the visitor exhibition also closed.