A needle exchange program in Halifax has handed out an additional 100,000 needles this year over last and there is still another month to go before year-end.
Last year the Mainline Needle Exchange handed out close to 565,000 sterile needles to intravenous drug users. This year, the program has handed out about 660,000 needles, and the year isn't over yet.
That's a 14 per cent jump in demand.
The Mainline Needle Exchange is a non-profit group dedicated to supporting current and former drug users through harm reduction strategies. Part of that strategy is to hand out clean needles to intravenous drug users to prevent the spread of disease.
'[These people] are looking at me saying they want to die and I know that, that's a service that could save their lives.'—Diane Bailey
Diane Bailey, Mainline's program director, said that number will likely hit 700,000 by the end of next month.
A year's supply of needles costs $100,000. Mainline's core funding from the province is $270,000 per year, unchanged in six years.
"I'm not asking for money, I realize the system is really strapped for money. But even if we could somehow have them pay for our needles, that could save us anywhere up to $100,000 a year," she said.
"We've given out so far this year like 660,000 needles and I'm sure by March 31 that we're going to be up to 700,000 needles, now that's mainland Nova Scotia that we provide services to."
Bailey said the good news is more people are using safely, the bad news is the large number who are abusing drugs.
"Hopelessness, there's no jobs. They're coming here and they’re going to the shelters and they get caught up in that culture, then they start using drugs," she said.
She said there could be a couple of explanations for Mainline's rapidly increasing needle numbers.
First, publicity around the needle exchange's 20th anniversary may have raised public awareness.
Second, with so many youth from rural areas adrift in the city, Bailey said drugs may act as a substitute to fill an emptiness. The pantry of the Mainline Needle Exchange is stocked with clean needles used to inject everything from Dilaudid to Oxycontin.
There are also controversial "safe" crack kits that are designed to prevent addicts from sharing utensils that can transmit HIV and Hepatitis C.
Turning people away the hardest part, says Bailey
The Mainline Exchange office is deliberately low key and modest, with space provided by the Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre.
Bailey, a recovered user herself, said they are now seeing more youth who have moved to the city from rural communities.
"You know Mainline is seeing so many new people, so many younger people. I say that everyone that we support into a methadone program, we seem to get two new people," she said.
She said having programs in place saves lives.
"I was on methadone when I went into recovery and methadone saved my life. I really believe I wouldn't be here today without that service and Direction 180 is struggling so hard financially, and I want so bad for them to get an increase in their funding," she said.
Bailey said one of the hardest parts of her job is turning people away.
"I don't have good [or] bad days, I have hard days. It is so hard when somebody comes in here, knowing that within two minutes [travel] there's a methadone program and I have to tell them that the program is full," she said.
"They're beyond capacity over there. [These people] are looking at me saying they want to die and I know that, that's a service that could save their lives. That's what I find hard here, incredibly hard."
There's a long wait list for methadone treatment in Nova Scotia.
Cindy MacIssac, the executive director of Direction 180, told CBC News in an October interview their current waitlist in Halifax is about 300 people.
Dozens of clients come to Direction 180 every day for a dose of methadone, a drug used to help control the withdrawal symptoms from opiates.