DDN February 2022 February 2022 | Page 6


A peer-run needle exchange could be far more open and accessible , says Elliot Bidgood



In January the London Joint Working Group on Substance Use and Hepatitis C ( LJWG ) launched a new report on the case for a peer-based needle exchange in London – designed by , and run by , the people who know how these services can work best ( see news , page 5 ).

Peers have lived experience of injecting drug use and use this to deliver education , services and advice on safer injecting practices to others . A peer-based needle exchange could still work with other services – such as drug treatment , health or housing advice – but would have this experience at its heart .
In 2020 , 43 per cent of people who injected drugs reported sharing unclean needles and works , leading to a preventable rise in hepatitis C infections . This was the backdrop to LJWG ’ s idea to seek funding from Hackney Council as part of the national ADDER Accelerator ( addiction ,
diversion , disruption , enforcement and recovery ) project to explore how the idea could work in the London borough . If successful , it is hoped the service could become pan-London , and inspire similar projects further afield .
SERVICE USER VOICE At the core of this research was a series of focus groups with people who inject drugs and peer workers , in order to build it around their experiences with current services as well as what they would want to see . Jason , a peer volunteer who has used services , said , ‘ There were lots of ideas at our workshop , everyone had something to say and it was great to hear ideas . Why not have availability at night , or why can ’ t we have access at the needle exchange to other support – health , legal or housing ?’
Needle exchange is vital to ensure that ‘ the people who don ’ t get any service would get clean needles instead of just using what ’ s there ’, Jason felt , but the
peer side of it was important to him . ‘ There ’ s a big difference between being given a needle exchange from a set worker and deciding what the service is yourself .’
Archie Christian , national training and volunteer manager for The Hepatitis C Trust , helped run the focus groups : ‘ There was a real positive outcome in sitting down , hearing and understanding the experiences of people who are in that community ,’ he said . ‘ And they realised it wasn ’ t just one of those simple “ tick box ” exercises . That produced an enthusiasm – that they were listened to , that they were understood and that they weren ’ t judged . I believe we could develop a programme of services where everyone involved in the production and delivery of the services , or the majority , have lived experience . Our actual service users or peers that no longer inject are still working within that community . Giving people opportunities to volunteer
Our actual service users or peers that no longer inject are still working within that community . Giving people opportunities to volunteer and pathways into employment can be transformational .’
and pathways into employment can be transformational .’
CONFRONTING STIGMA Bad experiences with existing services was a common theme in the focus groups , and in the