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Demand for clean syringes grows

Drug safety worker Bart McGill says most NSP participants act responsibly in returning their “fits”. Pictures: DARREN HOWERELATED:Drug users from all walks of life
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As the only major city or town in the Loddon Mallee region without a 24/7 needle and syringe program, increasing demand is putting pressure on harm minimisationservices in Bendigo.

Bendigo Community Health Servicesdrug safety worker, BartMcGill, says the number of people injecting heroin, pharmaceutical opiates and amphetamines in the city has been steadily increasing, withpopulation growth andlaws banning the sale of glass pipes in Victoriaboth contributing factors.

“Access to smoking paraphernalia, for particularly ice, has been restricted at the state level recently, so one of the unintended consequencesof that is that it’s much harder for people to get ‘crack’ pipes, so people now inject,” he says.

“It’s a growing town and we’re seeing more peopleyear on year and we’re going to need to address this at some stage.

“Idon’t know if we have the capacity to mange 24 hours, but we’re really looking at all the options we can to expand coverage to 7 days.”

McGill saysunlike parts of Melbourne, in Bendigo, most illicit intravenous drug use happens in the home.

“There areopen drug markets in Melbourne and there has been for a long time,” he says.

“Up here, it’s not that kind of town, it just wouldn’t fly here Idon’t think.”

That’s where the needle and syringeprogram comes in.

As an outreach worker, McGill travels to drug users’ homes, provides them with clean injecting equipmentand removes used syringes so they don’t end up on the street.

“It’sharm minimisation really, we’re accepting the fact that peoplemake their own choices about what they’re going to do with their lives,” he says.

“Our job is to give people the equipment and the knowledge to be able to use in a way that isn’t going to completely ruin their health, so down the line if they want to change things, their health hasn’t been too compromised.”

Growing demand means more needles, but McGill says most users are responsiblein returningtheir injecting equipment, known as “fits”.

“We really encourage peopleto take as many fits as they can because we don’t have good coverage here,” he says.

“But equally we’ll take them back, just to make sure they’ve been disposed of properly, becauseif anything’s going to compromise programs like this, it’s fits in inappropriateplaces.”

It’s an experience with whichBendigo mother Kayla* is only too familiar, after she was forced to pull her four-year-old son away from a discarded syringe on the way to kindergarten last week.

A discarded syringe found by a Bendigo mother on her way to kindergarten last week.

Kayla says her son often stops to rest during walks, particularly on hot days, but the incident would make her think twice about letting him do so again.

“He wanted to stop under a tree for a rest because it’s hot and as soon as he walked towards the tree he nearly put his foot on top of the syringe,” she says.

“It was scary.”

As well as the risk of contracting life-changing diseases from used needles, the mere fact her son had been exposed to illicit drug use in a public place was highly distressing for Kayla.

“You don’t want your kids seeing that type of thing, you don’t want your kids even knowing what it is,” she said.

“Hearing it on the news all the time and how many people get into trouble from that certain specific drug and the way they use it, you don’t want your kids growing up even knowing it, so it’s just disgusting that he had to see it.”

For her part, Kayla doesn’t support needle exchange programs, saying she believesdrug use is always unacceptable.

“Idon’t believe they should be doing it in the first place, it’s disgusting,” she says.

“If they’ve got kids in the house and stuff it’s just not right.”

But Harm Reduction Victoria board presidentBill O’Loughin says the majority of people who use NSPs do so responsibly, and those who opposedthe program were often short on alternative solutions.

“We know that they’ve got protocols in place encouraging peopleto use their equipment responsibly and return them,” he says.

“We’re likely to have some peoplethat don’t follow those protocols and that does become a concern for community safety, but it’s not becausethe programneglects this, the program activelyencourages peopleto return their equipmentordispose of it safely.”

“It’s going to happen somewhere, you might drive it off one street but it will reappear in another street.”

*Name has been changed.

Naloxone an OD insurance policyBendigo Community Health Services’ needle and syringe program is all about harm minimisation.

To that end,drug safety worker, BartMcGill, wants all the city’s intravenous drug users to familiarise themselves with the name Naloxone, a drug hesays could save their life.

“Ambos have been using it for decades and basically what it does is reverse the effects of an opiate overdose,” he says.“It’squite amazing stuff, it’s got absolutely no risk profile, it doesn’tdo anything else except for that.”

While technically a restricted medication, Naloxone is available over the counter for as little as $6.

For more information talk to yourpharmacist or call theNSP line on 1800 636 514 between7.30pm and10.45pm Tuesday to Saturday.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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