Backpacks, vending machines stocked with clean needles to reduce HIV rates in North Battleford

A health clinic in North Battleford has installed a vending machine stocked with clean drug supplies to reduce HIV rates.

Drug users can get free tokens from the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre’s front desk, or the harm reduction clinic, to access the needles and pipes inside the vending machine.

“If we give people ways to be safer than our whole community will be safer. If people feel supported, and not judged, they’re more likely to come to us when they are ready to make those next steps,” said Danielle Radchenko, a public nurse.

The vending machine is part of Radchenko’s harm reduction project. The other part of the project is “backpackers” – people who are involved in the community and wear backpacks filled with clean drug supplies to hand out to drug users.

A total of five backpackers are in North Battleford, Lloydminster and Meadow Lake. They’re paid positions of about $80 a week.

“They come in, we give them needles and they go out to people they care about and give needles or supplies to prevent HIV or Hepatitis C,” Radchenko said.

Radchenko said the goal is to spark conversations with drug users to avoid the spread of infections. Backpackers all carry needle disposal cases to ensure the clean needles they hand out don’t end up on the streets.

Radchenko got a $200,000 grant from the federal government to fund the backpacking and vending machine project.

Malcolm McNeil, who helps out as an occasional backpacker, has been living with HIV for 33 years.

“There’s four out of 10 people sharing their equipment. That’s too many. I see these numbers going nowhere but down,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be hard to get HIV the way we’re going about it here.”

In June, The Saskatchewan Health Authority declared an HIV outbreak in North Battleford.





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