The needle exchange program in penitentiaries will be expanded | AIDS: on the trail of a pandemic

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The needle exchange program in penitentiaries will be expanded | AIDS: on the trail of a pandemic

However, this initiative is struggling to reach detainees, who must undergo an assessment before having access to it. Not to mention the reluctance of the staff, first trained to detect the presence of drugs in prison.

As of June 2018, prisons across the country have been providing needle kits to prevent the sharing of needles among inmates and the spread of infectious diseases.

Despite the slowing of the pandemic, Correctional Service Canada still plans to expand the needle exchange program currently offered at nine penitentiaries, according to government officials.

During In a presentation given at the International AIDS Conference in Montreal over the weekend, Henry de Souza, the agency's director general of clinical services and public health, said a number of x27;facilities had been identified for expansion of the program, which will continue to be implemented across the country.

Inmates have been able to request sterile drug use equipment at two Canadian penitentiaries since 2018, and seven more were added in 2019.

Some activists have expressed concerns that the program, which is designed to reduce needle sharing and the spread of infectious disease, may be canceled after data shows low demand.

Officials told the AIDS conference Friday night that only 53 inmates were actively using the program as of mid-June, out of 277 inmates who had been cleared to participate over the past four years.

This program complements the country's only prison-based overdose prevention service, which was launched in 2019 at the medium-security men's facility in Drumheller, Alberta. It is above all a supervised injection service, offering sterile equipment and consumption under observation.

Since the opening of this service, there were 55 attendees, 1,591 visits and no overdoses at the facility, officials said at the Montreal conference.

The correctional service points out that it also offers mental health counseling and access to naloxone to counter the effects of an opioid overdose and preventive treatments, such as prophylaxis pre-exposure – a drug to prevent HIV.

All of these efforts have resulted in fewer infections, said Marie-Pierre Gendron, epidemiologist at Correctional Service Canada.

HIV infection among prisoners nationwide has fallen from 2.02% of the prison population in 2007 to 0.93% in 2020, while hepatitis C dropped from 21% in 2010 to 3.2% in 2021, Gendron said.

Lynne Leonard, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, who was hired by the agency to evaluate the programs, told the Montreal conference on Tuesday morning that both programs had beneficial results. important to inmates, despite initial reluctance from staff.

Preliminary results of his study revealed that the program appeared to result in a significant decrease in HIV infections in facilities that implemented it.

Users of the supervised consumption service have access to new injection equipment.

In addition, overdoses at the establishment Drumheller have more than halved since opening its supervised injection service.

I am encouraged that they describe the program as something they are proud of, said Sandra Ka Hon Chu, co-executive director of the HIV Legal Network.

Ms. Ka Hon Chu nevertheless denounces the involvement of security personnel in the initiative, a factor that could lead to a drop in participation, according to her. Some prison needle exchange programs in other countries are completely anonymous or even offer needles in vending machines.

“ This is really a critical flaw in the program.

—Sandra Ka Hon Chu, Co-Executive Director of the HIV Legal Network

Inmates are subject to assessment by facility security and approval by management before they can access programs, according to a description of the process by officials.

Statistics presented at the conference indicate that almost a quarter of applications for the program have been rejected.

Shawn Huish, Warden of Mission Institution in British Columbia, said it was difficult to change the mindset of correctional officers who are used to looking for drugs, trying to get them. confiscate and try to prevent inmates from consuming them – while promising inmates that their participation in the program would not affect their eventual release.

There is had a lot of fake news to fight, Huish said, referring to a sign outside the prison that portrayed the program in a negative light.

Our biggest goal was to talk, to educate, to allay fears. Accepting the presence of a syringe in prison can be frightening for people, he pointed out.

“So we looked at the files. In two and a half years, we've had a staff member who got bitten during a search – and it was because of a bulletin board bug.

— Shawn Huish, Warden of Mission Institution, British Columbia

Leah Cook, regional director of public health for the Prairies, spearheaded the establishment of the supervised injection service in Drumheller. She proudly claimed that it was the only known service of its kind in correctional settings on the world stage.

Ms. a security zone had been created so that program participants could carry their own supply of medication to the observation room without fear of being searched.

While it is unclear whether the agency plans to expand the overdose prevention service to other facilities, Professor Leonard's research found that members of Drumheller staff preferred it to the needle exchange program. They found it safer and more efficient, said Leonard.

Correctional Service Canada did not immediately respond to questions sent over the past weekend.< /p>

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