By Harm Reduction Educators Steff Pinch and Marissa Martins
WHAT IS A NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAM (NEP)?
A needle exchange program is a harm reduction initiative that that provides injection drug users with sterile hypodermic needles and safer injection supplies (alcohol swabs, sterile waters, medical-grade tourniquets, etc.) at a reduced cost, or for free. NEPs also offer a place to safely discard used syringes and supplies (bio hazardous medical waste). Most NEPs have literature and information on preventing and responding to overdose, injecting in the safest manner possible, and support and information surrounding safest practice and curbing or stopping usage, should the individual want these resources.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SUCH AN INITIATIVE?
Using unsterile works increases the chance of complications like bacterial infection and abscesses. Without access to new works, people may share supplies, which increases the chance of infection transmission (like Hep C and HIV). Not only are these uncomfortable, potentially life-threatening or life-shortening ailments, they are preventable harms that strain the health care system when systems like NEPs aren’t in place. Most importantly, NEPs communicate to people who use drugs that they deserve a program rooted in compassion and harm reduction that can lower the harms associated with their drug usage.
WHERE ARE THEY?
City-wide, there are almost 50 organizations that participate in this initiative. If you or someone you support could benefit from a NEP, please visit the City of Toronto’s Harm Reduction Supplies & Locations map to learn more.
This video by Healthcare Triage provides an interesting overview of the history of NEPs in America: