LETHBRIDGE – The use of needle-injected drugs is on the rise in Lethbridge, according to organizations that work on the front lines of drug abuse.
Volunteers with not-for-profit Lethbridge Arches, which offers a needle exchange program, said they’re hearing from clients that needles are becoming more and more common within Lethbridge.
Dwayne Schaaf with Streets Alive Mission said he is seeing and hearing the same alarming trend.
“We have a guy, he’s no longer with us, he passed on, but when we started hanging out with him and getting to know him five years ago, he was like, you know what, I’ll never do crack, and then we talked and he’s like, I’m using crack,” he said. “Then he’s like, I’ll never do needles, and then, well I’m doing needles.”
Schaaf said since the beginning of this year, he has seen several people become needle users.
“In the four months of this year so far, I probably know 15 people who have made a transition into needle usage,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization, about 16-million people inject drugs globally.
Lethbridge Arches’ Ashley Cherniwchan said the city of Lethbridge is not immune.
“In the last year we have had a 37 per cent increase in people accessing harm reduction supplies,” she said. “There are a few variables for that; one is we have seen the opiate overdose crisis in Alberta, so that is a factor and we have seen more injection methamphetamine use here in Lethbridge.”
In the last six months, Arches has handed out 25,000 needles as part of its harm reduction program. Typically they see about an 80 per cent return rate on used needles.
Drop boxes are placed around Lethbridge where users can discard old needles, but Cherniwachan said not every used needle makes it into a box.
“With the increasing rates of people finding needles, that we can’t really explain,” she said. “We do that education with clients, it is a problem though for sure, so we have been addressing it by making sure all of our clients do have individual-sized sharps disposal bins, we also have been going around and helping to pick up those needles.”
Arches is the primary organization dealing with IV drug users in Lethbridge. With the increase in use, they said more resources will be needed to battle the needle increase.