The Pharmacy Needle Exchange (PNEX) Programme was launched in October 2011 by the HSE and the Elton John AIDS Foundation in cooperation with the Irish Pharmacy Union.
The programme was set up to try to address the lack of access to clean needles, particularly among heroin injectors, with the aim of preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
An evaluation of the programme, involving a survey of 70 of the 107 participating pharmacies, was conducted by Liverpool Moores University and the Waterford Institute of Technology.
“Overall the evidence in this study suggests that the PNEX programme is acceptable and accessible to PWID [people who inject drugs] in Ireland, and largely supported by pharmacy staff,” concluded the evaluation.
“Figures provided by the HSE suggest that numbers of clients accessing the needle exchanges increased during 2013, suggesting that the programme is successfully engaging with the injecting drug using population in Ireland and increasing access and coverage of needle exchanges and access to health professionals.”
The report, made publicly available by the Health Research Board, says there were 26,196 needle exchange transactions in the participating pharmacies in 2013.
This involved approximately 600-1,100 individuals attending each month, 70% of whom were male and mostly injecting heroin.
The number using the service increased during 2013, from 583 in January, to 1,073 in December.
While the bulk of clients were injecting heroin, a significant number were steroid users, while a smaller number were injecting melanotan, a synthetic tanning agent.
It said that, generally, there was “high satisfaction” among clients with the service, although a quarter expressed dissatisfaction with the attitudes of staff.
Pharmacy staff also expressed satisfaction with the success of the programme, with only a small number highlighting risks of crime and undesirable behaviour.