Date posted: August 27, 2021

Extern has joined the drive to provide sterile injecting equipment to drug users with the launch of a new online training programme for pharmacy staff across Northern Ireland. 

Funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA), the new training course is designed for staff working in selected pharmacies which dispense unused, sterile injecting equipment to those who require it. Currently, there are 20 pharmacies providing such services across Northern Ireland. 

Extern is the leading provider within Northern Ireland of training in needle and syringe exchange and the management of safer injecting drug use. Extern – which supports over 4,500 people with problematic drug and alcohol usage each year – also provides training and resources in the administering of the life-saving drug Naloxone, which is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. 

It is recognised that pharmacy staff providing injecting equipment play a key role in limiting the spread of blood borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C through providing sterile injecting equipment and safely disposing of used injecting equipment.

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

Cheerful young female pharmacist wearing labcoat working on computer

The new online training course was written by Extern and Exchange Supplies, and funded by the PHA, who commission Needle and Syringe Exchange Services with the Health and Social Care Board.

It covers key areas such as Values & Ethics, Equipment, Understanding Injecting, and issues such as overdose and skin and soft tissue infections. 

Chris Rintoul, manager of Extern’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.” 

Interim CEO of Extern, Danny McQuillan, said: “As one of the leading organisations supporting those who experience problem substance use, Extern is acutely aware of the needs which these people often present with on a daily basis.

Not only does this new training support community pharmacy staff to engage with people who inject drugs, it also ensures they can reduce injecting-related risks and consequences, and it also contributes to Extern’s broader objectives of creating safer communities for us all in keeping the prevalence of blood borne viruses low in Northern Ireland.” 

Linda Wylie, Senior Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Officer at the Public Health Agency, said: “Needle exchange services benefit the entire community by providing a place for injecting equipment to be safely disposed of, reducing drug-related litter, and also reducing the risk of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C within the population. 

“They also provide those using the service with direct access to a health professional, who can support them in engaging with treatment services to address their drug misuse.

Anyone who injects substances can use a needle exchange service and this includes people who inject steroids, tanning agents, stimulants and opioids. 

“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.”