Needle-exchange programs 'necessary' for prisons: Report
By KATHLEEN HARRIS, Parliamentary Bureau
OTTAWA — Needle-exchange programs are a “pragmatic and necessary” way to stop the spread of deadly and financially draining diseases like HIV and hepatitis behind bars, according to a report to be released Tuesday.
The 42-page report from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, called “Under the Skin,” features testimonials from 50 federal and former inmates and aims to raise public awareness and rally support for needle and syringe programs in penitentiaries.
“We thought it is a way to humanize them and for the public to realize this could be your brother, your sister,” said Sandra Ka Hon Chu, one of the report authors, who noted HIV and hepatitis C rates are 10 to 20 times higher in prisons than in the regular population.
The inmates describe rampant drug use while incarcerated, using shared needles and home-made “rigs” from earrings, Q-Tips or the insides of lighters.
“I never wanted to share a needle; I didn’t choose to share,” Ronald George Sallenbach of Edmonton said. “But when you need to get a hit and don’t have a rig, you end up sharing.”
The report cites human rights as well as financial reasons for implementing needle exchange, noting the cost of treating an inmate with hep C is $22,000 a year and $29,000 for a prisoner with HIV.
The Conservative government has rejected calls for a needle-exchange program and scrapped a pilot safe tattoo initiative in prisons.