Needle injection stereotypes are all wrong, forum told

The lead author of new research that shows how intravenous drug use has been multiplying says people need to bury stereotypes and preconceived notions about who's shooting up in the province.

Demand for clean needles continues to soar, AIDS Committee says

Researcher Marie Ryan on the changing demographics of IV drug use: 'We [should] recognize that it's everybody, and it could be your coworker ... Really, us is them.' (CBC)

The lead author of new research that shows how intravenous drug use has been multiplying across Newfoundland and Labrador says people need to bury stereotypes and preconceived notions about who's shooting up in the province.

"What people don't know is that the individuals that are using injection drugs are not your stereotypical 20-to-40, poor, homeless, alcoholic, down-on-their-luck men," said Marie Ryan, who wrote research presented this weekend in St. John's at an international conference on HIV/AIDS.

Gerard Yetman is the executive director of the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)
"Without a doubt, there's any number who are living in poverty [but] the demographic is not what people traditionally think of."

Ryan works for the consulting firm Goss Gilroy, which was hired to assess the SWAP needle-exchange program operated by the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Among other things, the report found that use of needles has increased 10-fold between 2005 and last year. The AIDS Committee says that its own numbers confirm that demand for needles is still escalating.

"In 2012 we had distributed over 330,000. In the first six months of 2013, we had already surpassed that number," said Gerard Yetman, the committee's executive director.

The report determined that IV users are found in a wide variety of demographic groups, and have different educational levels — from those who scraped through only elementary skills to others with post-graduate degrees or working in the skilled trades.

"We [should] recognize that it's everybody, and it could be your coworker ... Really, us is them," Ryan said in an interview.

Attempting to fool drug tests

Ryan, a former deputy mayor of St. John's, said while the research showed that the majority of IV users live in the St. John's area, users live across the province, including in rural communities that are not known for drug use.

As well, the research found that people use needles for a great many drugs, including the expected opioids to options that may seem surprising.

"People are not smoking marijuana — they're injecting marijuana," said Ryan, adding that users are attracted to the option to clear drug tests at work. "What I learned is that it disappears quicker, so that it's not as easy to find in a urine test, if you're working on-site somewhere."

Ryan said the needle-exchange program not only helps to prevent the transmission of diseases, but provides a valuable contact with health officials to eventually enter recovery.

"Providing people needles is a safety issue. It's a public health issue. It is not a way to just give an easy road for people who inject drugs," she said.

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