Huge spike in demand for clean needles illustrates opioid crisis in Nova Scotia

Triple. That’s the explosive growth in the number of clean needles the Northern Healthy Connections Society is on track to hand out to drug users this year.

Last year, the Truro, N.S.,-based health promotion group gave clients almost 9,500 needles. This year, that amount was surpassed in just four months.

Now the group is down to its last 3,000 needles, which were paid for by MAC AIDS, a cosmetic company’s charity fund. Those syringes will be gone in about a month.

High rate of Hepatitis C

“It’s scary,” said Albert McNutt, the director of the society. “It’s getting low, that’s for sure.”

The free needles are urgently needed here. Injection drug use is the most commonly reported risk factor among Hepatitis C cases in Nova Scotia. Cumberland and Colchester counties, the areas the group serves, have the highest and third highest rates of Hepatitis C infection in Nova Scotia. The provincial rate (30.6/100,000 population) is above the national average (29.5/100,000).

Albert McNutt is the director of Northern Healthy Connections. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

McNutt said he’s started talking to the Nova Scotia Health Authority about funding the needle exchange, but doesn’t know if or when that will come through.

“They’re certainly aware of the situation we’re up against,” said McNutt.

In a statement, the Nova Scotia Health Authority says it recognizes needle exchanges are an important and cost-effective harm reduction strategy for people who inject drugs.

Doesn’t want to turn people away

“NSHA is committed to cross-sectoral collaboration and working with our community partners to address immediate and long-term needs in regards to harm reduction and prevention work across the province,” the statement said. The authority said it’s looking for ways to expand and reorganize current programs. 

McNutt said he will look in the meantime for donations of needles because he doesn’t want to turn people away. He says he’ll also tap into a cash donation, earmarked for surveying clients, from 100 Women Who Care Truro. And he’ll re-apply for another grant from the cosmetic-company charity.

Nova Scotia opioid crisis

“They’ll be quite startled by the numbers and the impact they’ve had on this community,” he said.

The huge spike in demand for needles is a reflection of the opioid “crisis” in Nova Scotia, McNutt said.

  • Hepatitis C rates in Cape Breton among the highest in Canada

He says it’s up to the health authority to act to support harm reduction groups like Northern Healthy Connections, Mainline and Sharp Advice in Cape Breton.

“The ball’s gonna be in [the health authority’s] court next,” he said.