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Needle exchange off to slow start


A little over a week after its initial launch, the Fort Area Exchange has seen no intravenous drug users turn in their used needles for sterile new ones.

“There’s been no use on our end of things,” said David Schwartz of Gagne Pharmacy here, one of the program’s four local partners.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I think we’re waiting for word of mouth to get around,” he added.

“There’s been none exchanged here, either,” echoed Todd Young of the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre.

“But it’s what we expected. Talking with the needle exchange in Thunder Bay, it took six months to a year before people realized how it could benefit them,” he remarked.

But statistics from as late as this summer show the Thunder Bay exchange, which began in 1995, is now taking up to 13,000 needles per month.

Other partners, including the Northwestern Health Unit and Riverside Community Counselling, also have reported no exchanges so far.

“There’s a good chance it will be utilized only as long as it’s accepted. We’re here to bring about understanding,” said Darlene Barrett, with Riverside Community Counselling.

It’s seems people here are prepared to accept such a program, at least according to the weekly poll on the Fort Frances Times Web site.

With 66 people responding as of Wednesday morning, 63.6 percent said they were in favour of a needle exchange program here while 36.4 percent were against it.

Fort Area Exchange is a program where used needles can be exchanged for clean ones to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases such as AIDS/HIV and hepatitis.

After more than six months of planning with its 16-member committee consisting of health care, social, and law enforcement workers as well as a former intravenous drug-user, the program officially was launched last Monday.

Besides offering sterile syringes for intravenous drug-users, it also provides alcohol swabs and sterile water, condoms and lubrication, education pamphlets, and counselling and treatment referrals—all part of a harm reduction plan.

The area exchange was made possible by a grant from Health Canada, funding shared by Sioux Lookout and Kenora, the former of which has set up a needle exchange and the latter of which is in the process of doing so.

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