Needle exchange scheme uptake rises
A needle exchange scheme aimed at reducing infections among illegal drug users has seen a major jump in uptake.
The Department of Health's latest annual statistics on the Northern Ireland Needle and Syringe Exchange Scheme (NSES) showed an 18% increase in usage.
Participating venues, which carry sealed containers to dispose of syringes, recorded 15,828 visits, a major increase on the 13,389 visits seen in 2008/09.
The deputy chairwoman of the Assembly's Health Committee, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, said it was positive that the scheme was being used by increasing numbers, and she called for it to be more widely available.
"I would welcome it, it is a positive thing," said the Mid Ulster MLA. "People have drug addictions and you have to be realistic about it, and you have to provide this kind of programme to assist people."
She added: "It should be rolled out over more areas, because these kind of things tend to be based in urban rather than rural areas."
The scheme is currently operating in Belfast, Ballymena, Bangor, Craigavon, Armagh, Derry, Enniskillen, Newtownabbey and Antrim.
A total of 153,625 clean syringes were issued in 2009/10, a 13% increase on the 135,700 issued in 2008/09.
The report said that more than four-fifths of visits (86%) were made by male clients. Over half (53%) of all visits were made by individuals aged 31 years and over, while just over a quarter (26%) by those aged 26-30 and approximately a fifth (21%) by individuals aged 25 years and under.
Outreach workers can also dispose of the needles on behalf of a client and 125 such visits were recorded. In total 3,200 syringes were issued by outreach workers in 2009/10 compared to 2,070 in 2008/09.