hi-ns-needle-exchange-4col

Christine Porter says they distribute up to 9.000 needles a month. (Associated Press)

A Cape Breton needle exchange program says a new grant from the province will help it address a growing demand for service in First Nations communities.

The AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton will receive $33,000 each year for three years.

It's one of 23 organizations across Nova Scotia that will receive funding through the province's mental health and addictions strategy.

The AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton runs a needle exchange program out of its Sydney office. Two staff members also do outreach work at 65 sites around the island.

The program provides sterile needles to drug users to minimize the risk of infection.

Director Christine Porter said a couple years ago, there was no demand for that service from Cape Breton’s First Nations communities.

"I'm sure the need was there," she said. "There just was no request for outreach in those communities. I don't know if it was fear or lack of information that the organization even existed or provided that service, I don't know what the problem was."

Porter said all of a sudden, the coalition was distributing as many as 9,000 syringes in First Nations communities each month.

"I'd have to say that the increase, it's up there to the point where we couldn't afford to continue to provide the service in those communities," she said.

She said the grant money will help cover the costs of travel and additional supplies. It will allow her to hire a part-time worker to cover the Sydney office when the other two staff members are on the road.

The money will also be spent educating people about harm reduction.

"There's a real war on drugs in those communities, and it makes life very difficult for people who are using drugs to gain support from fellow community members."

Porter said she hopes to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction on First Nations communities.