Needle exchange for 13,700 drug users

At least 13,700 drug users are availing of needle exchange services, according to the first study of its type in the country.

Needle exchange for 13,700 drug users

And reflecting the national spread of the injecting of drugs, particularly of heroin, the report documents nearly 2,500 injectors in the HSE South region and more than 1,400 users in HSE West.

It found over 270,000 syringes and 135,000 needles were given out in 2012.

The service provides clean syringes and needles, and other items, to addicts in an effort to limit the spread of blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis C and HIV from the sharing of equipment .

The research, conducted by the HSE, said there were a total of 98 needle exchange services in 2012.

Some 24 were permanent (or static) facilities, mostly in Dublin, 11 were outreach or mobile services, and 63 were pharmacies. The study said that 33 of the pharmacies actually had needle exchange transactions in 2012.

“The data collected showed that 13,763 individuals used needle exchange services during 2012,” said the Review of Needle Exchange Provision in Ireland.

A geographic breakdown across the four HSE regions shows:

  • 7,446 were in HSE Dublin Mid Leinster (south and west Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Longford, Laois, Offaly, and Westmeath);
  • 2,478 were in HSE South (Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, and south Tipperary);
  • 2,400 were in HSE Dublin North East (north Dublin, Louth, Meath, Cavan, and Monaghan);
  • 1,439 were in HSE West (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Limerick, north Tipperary.

While most injectors in Dublin go to static centres, the vast majority of users in the South and West get their needles from pharmacies.

The report points out that Cork and Kerry have no static or outreach needle exchange services.

The gender ratio was four males to one female, except for HSE South, where it was three to one. While the report does not speculate why, it may be because of the anonymity offered by pharmacies, which females may prefer over static services.

The report said 272,475 syringes were distributed through services in 2012, in addition to 135,696 needles. Only 25,450 spoons were distributed, indicating they were being used more than once.

It said 2,400 green needles, mainly used by steroid injectors, were distributed as were 404 crack pipe kits in two areas, thought to be in Dublin.

The report, authored by Tim Bingham, Joe Doyle, and others, said there had been a steady fall in new HIV cases among injecting drug users: from 71 in 2004 to 13 in 2012. There had been a 17.5% reduction in the number of Hepatitis C cases in 2012, from 1,257 in 2011 to 1,036 in 2012.

The report did not have figures for how the 135,696 needles were discarded. It requested data for all services, but said the data received was “varied”.

The report said there are a number of emerging drug trends including crystal meth, crack cocaine, ketamine, steroids, tanning products and problematic cannabis smokers.

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