Northern Ireland news

Pharmacy staff get online needle exchange training

Drug deaths have more than doubled in Northern Ireland over the past decade
Seanín Graham

PHARMACY staff who distribute sterile needles to drug users are to receive training to reduce the spread of HIV and other blood borne viruses.

Leading social charity Extern, which supports more 4,500 people with drug and alcohol problems each year, will deliver the new online training as part of an initiative funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA).

There are 20 selected pharmacies across Northern Ireland which dispense unused, sterile injecting equipment to those who require it.

Pharmacy staff can also provide advice and information to reduce the harms resulting from injecting, and support clients to access other services including treatment programmes.

Drug deaths have more than doubled in the north over the past decade, with fatalities linked to heroin the highest number on record.

Figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) earlier this year show 191 people lost their lives to drugs in 2019 compared with 84 in 2009.

The training course covers areas such as equipment, understanding injecting, as well as overdose and skin and soft tissue infections.

Chris Rintoul, manager of the charity's Drug and Alcohol Advisory Service (DACS), said: "This new training recognises that people who inject drugs need to get access to sterile injecting equipment to reduce the transmission of blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis C.

"In doing so, they can develop a link with healthcare professionals working in these pharmacies. This can act as a source of support, motivation and referral to drug treatment which aims to make drug use safer, or reduce or stop it altogether.

"Extern has provided training to all services which provide sterile injecting equipment since 2017, including drug treatment services. By making this course available online, this will allow busy pharmacy staff an opportunity to complete the training at a time and pace of their own choosing."

Needle and syringe exchange programmes were first commissioned 20 years ago and located in community pharmacies based on data received on where they were needed.

Linda Wylie of the PHA said:

"The new online training complements and enhances the excellent work that the health professionals in community pharmacies undertake with people who inject substances. The training increases the understanding of the needle exchange service and it's important this valuable role continues to keep our communities safer."

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