Needle exchanges ‘helping to stop spread of infection’

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Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

A total of 33,992 visits were made to needle and syringe exchange schemes (NSES) during 2018-19, helping to stop the spread of infection from drug-related litter and sharing of equipment.

The figures released by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) show a 13% increase in visits to NSES compared to the 2017-18 figures.

Michael Owen, the PHA’s Regional Lead for Drugs and Alcohol, said, “The increase in demand for the service demonstrates a need for the scheme, evidence that people are listening to our advice to use the support available and good use of a service which helps to protect the wider community.

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“NSES are based in areas where there is an existing pattern of people who inject, but the scheme benefits the entire community, not only by providing a place for injecting equipment to be safely disposed of and reducing the risk of drug-related litter, but also lowering the risk of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C within the wider population.

“The vast majority of people who inject substances – which includes people who inject steroids, tanning agents, opioids and stimulants – will find a way to inject it whether they can get clean needles or not.



“There is a serious risk to population health if these individuals share or reuse injecting equipment, which can lead to serious illness and infection,” he warned.

“Making it harder for people to get clean needles would mean they are far more likely to share needles.

“This would hugely increase the risk of blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis B and C or HIV amongst the injecting population, and this, in turn, would increase the risk to the wider population, so needle exchanges have an important role to play in helping to protect not only drug users but also the community more generally.



“The needle and syringe exchange schemes help support the health and wellbeing of our whole community and provide those who inject substances with a confidential service and direct access to a health professional, who can help them in engaging with treatment services to address their drug misuse.

“Providing services locally is vital, as people who inject substances are often vulnerable, may be in poor health, dealing with complex social issues and without local access to sterile equipment and advice.

Michael added, “Needle exchanges are particularly valuable for engaging these people, because it may be the only service they are willing to use and provides us with opportunities to sign-post people to additional support and information.”

There were 21 community pharmacy needle and syringe exchange schemes operating during 2018-19, as well as the service being provided by one Drug Outreach Team in Belfast and one Community Addiction Team in Ballymena.



The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust area had the highest number of visits (62%) and the Southern HSCT area the lowest number of visits (4%). However, pharmacies in the Southern HSCT area experienced the largest percentage rise in visits – up 33% – on the previous year, while the Western HSCT area noted a drop of 13% in demand compared to the previous year.

Anyone who injects substances can use a needle exchange service, and this includes people who inject substances such as performance enhancement steroids, tanning agents, stimulants and opioids.

Of the total visits to the NSES, 3% injected tanning agent only; 23% injected steroids, or steroids, as well as tanning agent and opiates and 69% injected opiates only.



If you or someone you know is affected by drug and/or alcohol misuse, a range of support services in your local area can be found on



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