Saving Money on the Needle Exchange

This bag of needles was left by an addict. One needle was used.
This bag of needles was left by an addict. One needle was used.

THUNDER BAY – A needle exchange saves tax dollars. Instead of having massive expenditures in treating diseases like AIDS or Hepatitis the needle exchange offers an option for addicts to sharing needles.

Edmonton based Streetworks exchanges approximately 550,000 clean needles and distributes one hundred and fifty thousand condoms on an annual basis. The program also delivers a variety of nursing and health-education services. Streetworks’ annual operating expenses are approximately $264,000 (Canadian), over half of which is used to run the needle exchange program.

Needle Exchange Program

In Ontario, the needle exchange program in a study for Ontario Health stated, “It is estimated that 53 needles are distributed per injector per year (Millson et al., 2005).”

However, perhaps it is time that the program investigates trimming the budget in terms of how needles are handed out.

Right now common practice is handing out bags containing 20 needles. Along with the syringes are alcohol swabs, an elastic, and in some cases an instruction booklet on safe injection.

The reality seems in too many cases, addicts are using one needle, and tossing the rest away.

Saving money should be an objective for all agencies funded with tax dollars. In Thunder Bay, packaging needles in smaller quantities would cut the waste, be more environmentally friendly.

Needles in Kam River Park

In Thunder Bay, in too many cases, like the picture shows, an addict used one needle, and then left the rest. The nineteen needles were left along with all of the related supplies. The waste of syringes, supplies can be up to 95%. It appears a recent addition to the kits is a sticker asking the addict to dispose of the used syringes safely.

To share, the discarded syringes discovered by the author were safely disposed off in the needle bin in Kam River Park. These syringes were located about 20 metres from the bin.

Superior Points
Sticker on bag of syringes asks the user to safely dispose of them.

Often there are large numbers of needles left in laneways and alleyways.


Perhaps a first step that would help all concerned would be packaging syringes in smaller packages. Four or five syringes in a package could reduce waste and still provide this needed service. The only thing that this would impact would be more kraft paper bags. This could be helpful for clients of the needle exchange who are on the streets. 

A second solution might be in using the same approach with addicts as the methadone clinics are already using. Clients would be able, upon returning their used syringes in safe containers be granted a greater number of syringes.

A longer term solution would be to employ resources into programs to move addicts off drugs and into treatment. That would not likely eliminate the need for a needle exchange program, but would set the stage for the future where there would be less demand for drugs, especially injection drugs.

Found a Syringe?

 Superior Points, which is under the Thunder Bay District Health Unit states:

Follow these steps to safely deal with a found needle or any other used, sharp object:

  • Do not try to put the cap back on the needle. Do not snap, break or bend any part of the needle.
  • Pick the needle up carefully. Use tongs, needle-nosed pliers or a gloved hand.
  • Put the needle in a hard PLASTIC container (peanut butter jar, pop bottle or, water bottle).
  • Seal it tightly and label it ‘Needle’. Do not use a glass container as it could break.
  • Call Superior Points at 625-8831 or 625-7996 to pick up the needle(s)
  • You can also drop off the container at any yellow needle collection box. Call Superior Points to find one near you.

You can also call Superior Points if you are concerned about found needles. If you leave a message, please give as many details as possible and include a contact phone number for follow-up.

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