Southern health region launches safe needle program for drug users

Injection drug users in southeast Manitoba are encouraged to take advantage of a new program aimed at reducing the risk posed by used needles.

Drug users can obtain sterile needles, drop off used ones at public health offices

Southern Health-Santé Sud recently rolled out its free needle program at all public health offices across the region in an effort to expand harm reduction programs to rural areas. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Injection drug users in southeast Manitoba are encouraged to take advantage of a new program aimed at reducing the risk posed by used needles.

Southern Health-Santé Sud recently rolled out its free needle program at all public health offices across the region in an effort to expand harm reduction programs to rural areas.

Similar services have been available in Winnipeg for some time.

"We don't have specific information on what's happening in our region but we do know that drug use does exist in rural Manitoba, and we know that we're a small province and people tend to move around a lot," said Stephanie Verhoeven.

"So offering the service rurally, something that has been available in Winnipeg for a long time, the rest of the province has been reaching out in the last year or so and providing that service as well."

Other regions have also introduced harm reduction programs. The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority introduced a needle exchange program in summer of 2015 after concerns about discarded needles. 

When drug users can't readily access supplies, they will share and reuse needles, increasing the risk of spreading diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, Verhoeven said.

Drug users can also drop off used needles at public health offices, and if they're interested, access treatment for addictions, mental health, and other issues.

Providing sterile needles and encouraging save disposal promotes the safety of not only the individual drug user but other members of the community who might otherwise come in contact with discarded needles, Verhoeven said.

People who come in for needles are also encouraged to take some for friends who also use injection drugs.

"It's hard to say exactly how many people's lives you're touching when you make supplies accessible in this way," she said.

Public health offices are generally open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, although hours may vary between communities, so Verhoeven encourages people to call their public health nurse to find out the best time.

If you come across a discarded needle the health region advises you to:

  • Use a sharps container, or a thick plastic bottle like a bleach container. Don't use glass, which can break.
  • Put the container on a stable surface.
  • Wear thick gloves.
  • Use tongs, pliers or tweezers to pick up needles.
  • Put the needle in the container and tape closed.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Drop off the container at a public health office or a pharmacy that accepts used needles.
  • Do not put the container in a recycling bin.

If you are pricked by a needle:

  • Allow the wound to bleed freely.
  • Don't squeeze to encourage bleeding.
  • Quickly wash the area with soap and water.
  • Go to an emergency department.

With files from Sean Kavanagh