25/02/2020

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.
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"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.



(JG/CM)

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