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Needle exchange would likely improve situation in North Tallinn

According to a police statistic, most overdose and drug-related deaths occur in socio-economically poorer bedroom communities where there are no needle exchanges and little to no drug prevention activity. The disputed location of the new needle exchange in North Tallinn is one of these hotspots.

Between January and July 2017 63 people died of drug overdoses in Estonia, 38 of them in Tallinn alone. Two boroughs of the capital lead the statistic, namely Lasnamäe with 15 and North Tallinn with ten deaths. In the latter, most of the cases concerned the Sitsi quarter, where the National Institute for Health Development (TAI) and the Ministry of Social Affairs want to set up a needle exchange and prevention center.

Residents of the quarter are fighting against the plan to set up the center next to an apartment building (see gallery). Contrary to media reports that the center will be housed inside an actual apartment block, it would be set up in a commercial side building of one of the area’s larger Soviet-era houses.

Still, the needle exchange would be close to an existing youth center, which has residents worry that their kids might be affected. The protesters said on Wednesday that they were disappointed with the Ministry of Social Affairs and also with TAI, as they were “steamrolling” the locals and not listening to their concerns at all.

The needle exchange made the area less safe for children and youngsters, residents argue. “A lot of children and young families live in and around our house,” Dmitri Griškun, chairman of one of the local apartment owners’ associations told ERR’s Aktuaalne kaamera newscast on Wednesday. “The kids are going over to the youth center on their own in the evenings and will encounter the junkies headed [to the needle exchange],” Griškun is convinced.

No prevention or damage control done in the affected communities

But without the needle exchange, nothing is done in this hotspot to improve the situation. According to experts at TAI and the ministry, these centers are most effective where the crisis is the most intense, as the centers can do prevention work as well and help reintegrate addicts into everyday life in the area.

Currently there is no such point in North Tallinn, and none in Lasnamäe either. This means that addicts have nowhere to go for clean needles, which in turn means that used needles are discarded wherever they were last used, which is in the green areas between apartment blocks—where the playgrounds are.

Without rehabilitation services and other help for addicts, there is no way for the situation to improve in terms of the crisis’ social impact.

Tallinn’s only needle exchange is located in Lastekodu St. close to the Central Market and the bus station, miles away from where most addicts are. It is run by the not-for-profit MTÜ Convictus, which offers clean needles as well as social and psychological support.

Not a single case of an overdose has been reported in that area, and the same applies for the area around Magasini St., where MTÜ Pealinna Abikäsi runs a support office for addicts. Both the Lastekodu and Magasini offices are financed by TAI, who would provide the funding for the Sitsi center as well.

The situation in North Tallinn has continuously escalated since a needle exchange in Erika St. was closed a year and a half ago. An attempt to open a center in Paldiski St. failed last year because the local council and the ministry couldn’t agree on the location as well as the financing of the new center.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: ERR, Eesti Päevaleht

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