Northern Ireland

Boots needle exchange withdrawal 'loss to Belfast'

syringes Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Addiction NI says needle exchange protects both drug users and the public

The ending of a needle exchange service at Boots' main Belfast branch will be "a loss to the city", campaigners say.

The pharmacy giant is withdrawing the service from 1 November, blaming fears for staff safety after anti-social behaviour by users of the service.

Alex Bunting of Addiction NI said it was unfortunate Boots had taken the decision, but that he understood they had reasons to do so.

Boots said it would still offer the service at seven other locations in NI.

The company told Belfast Live it had not taken the decision lightly, saying it needed to put the safety of staff first.

More than 30,000 visits were made to 21 needle exchanges in Northern Ireland in 2017-18.

Image caption The needle exchange service has been running at Boots' Donegall Place store for more than 10 years

"This has been operating for over 10 years and it will be a loss to the city," said Mr Bunting.

"I'm glad that the PHA has taken the decision to fund a pilot [scheme] in the city with a service provider in Extern to provide a needle exchange.

"It's an extremely powerful harm reduction method for us in terms of needle use."

He said the service not only protected drug users, but also the public, as used needles were returned, rather than being discarded on the streets.

"We've seen a 53% rise in the number of visits to needle exchange for opioid needles over the past four years.

"That's probably reflective of the growth in the use of intravenous drugs and in particular drugs like heroin and, again, in particular in Belfast.

He called for a co-ordinated approach to look at other harm reduction methods, while not forgetting the value of needle exchange.

In 2017-18, a total of 30,065 visits were made to clinics providing needle exchange services in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust area received the most visits - 14,523.

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