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30,000 VISITS BY DRUG USERS TO ULSTER NEEDLE EXCHANGES; Report shows 64% heroin injections.

Byline: MAURICE FITZMAURICE

NEEDLE and syringe exchange schemes in Northern Ireland were visited more than 30,000 times in a year, latest figures show.

Statistics released by the Public Health Agency and Health and Social Care Board also reveal how opiates, or heroin, account for 64% of the drugs being injected.

Overall there has been a 3% increase in the number of visits to the exchanges.

However, the PHA report found there has been a "substantial increase" of 64% in demand in the Southern Trust area. The figures cover the period from April 2017 to March 2018. Some of the exchanges have caused controversy, however health chiefs insist they "benefit the entire community".

There are total of 21 schemes, with 19 run through pharmacies and the other two in a drug outreach in Belfast and a community addiction team service in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

The PHA's drug and alcohol lead Michael Owen said: "Needle exchange services are based in areas where there is an existing pattern of people who inject, but they benefit the entire community, not only by providing a place for injecting equipment to be safely disposed of and reducing the risk of drug-related litter, but also lowering the risk of HIV and Hepatitis B and C within the wider population."

The issue has caused a great deal of unrest in the Donegall Pass area of South Belfast where locals have complained that syringes are regularly dumped. The Mirror has also reported how intravenous drug use has been witnessed by locals who complain it is often done in full view.

But Mr Owen added: "Providing services locally is vital, as people who inject substances are often vulnerable, may be in poor health, dealing with complex social issues and without local access to sterile equipment and advice.

"Needle exchanges are valuable because it may be the only service they are willing to use."

irish@mgn.co.uk

21 needle exchange schemes are operating in Northern Ireland

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 17, 2019
Words:327
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