Needle exchange comes of age
The New Zealand National Needle Exchange Programme was the first of its kind in the world, and this year, it turns 21. Kim Thomas looks at the history of this quiet achiever and talks to some of those who have helped form its development over the years.
Canterbury-based injecting morphine user Neil reckons he’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for New Zealand’s National Needle Exchange Programme (NEP).
“Over the years, the needle exchange has quite literally saved my life. I spent every dollar on the score and didn’t have money for expensive equipment. If the exchange hadn’t been around, I would have just reused old needles or shared with people and probably got AIDS.
“It’s not only saved my life, but it’s probably saved the lives of lots of ordinary people, like kids who find dirty, used gear dumped around the streets.”
Neil, now 41, has been an injecting drug user (IDU) for more than 20 years but has managed to avoid catching HIV and, until recently, hepatitis C (hep C).
As a curious young man, Neil tried heroin while living in Australia and became hooked. With the exception of three or four years when he was clean, Neil has shot up for the past two decades.
Every time, with the exception of a couple of instances in which he believes he contracted hep C, Neil has used equipment he bought from the needle exchange.