REGINA – The province of Saskatchewan’s needle exchange program handed out over 4.7 million needles to drug users in 2011-12.
The program is in place to prevent the spread of infections like HIV or hepatitis through the sharing of needles. It is a common program in communities across Canada.
For the estimated 5,500 users in Saskatchewan, the numbers are good enough for two needles a day. Five years ago the province distributed fewer than four million. Saskatchewan is far outpacing Alberta, which has a much larger population. Between April 2012 and March 2013, the province of Alberta handed out 1,880,000 needles.
“I don’t think it’s just a matter of more people using drugs, but sometimes the intensity of drug use might be quite high,” explained the province’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.
He said the program is not about enabling users, and is much more than just workers giving and taking needles.
“There’s a rapport that results in discussion around issues with drug use, maybe reducing drug use or maybe referring to mental health and addictions to come off drugs all together,” said Shahab.
After doing drugs for 19 years, Miller says he had a chance to try almost everything, and when he wanted to use injection drugs he knew where the get the needles: at one of the province’s 16 needle exchanges.
“I’d get a 10-pack,” he explained. “Then I’d usually use the whole pack every day.”
Earlier this year Miller realized he was in a bad situation.
“I never thought I’d be a homeless junkie living at the Salvation Army,” Miller said.
Now he has been clean for five months, and as a front line worker at Street Culture, Miller is supporting kids in the same situation he was.
“It’s been hectic, but it’s been so rewarding,” he said. “I’m building my life back together.”