Lived experience and peer leaders within Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui are leading work around the development of peer workforce career pathways. This involves a review of the current peer workforce competencies and exploring frameworks to support the various careers and specialties within the peer support workforce. Caro Swanson and Suzy Morrison will be leading conversations with mental health, addiction and disability peer support workers over the coming year across the Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui and Matua Raḵi work programmes.
Suzy Morrison (project lead), Jason George (harm reduction facilitator) and Caro Swanson (service user lead) at the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme warehouse.
The Origins of the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme (NEP)
Harm reduction emerged as a paradigm during the 1980s in response to the threat posed by HIV/AIDS. Needle exchanges were one of the earliest harm reduction initiatives.
In the mid-1980s, activists from the injecting drug using community self-mobilised to develop and advocate for a safe injecting programme in New Zealand. A number of pharmacists in Christchurch and Auckland supported the work of these early pioneers by supplying equipment for injecting drug use.
On 17 December 1987, the New Zealand Parliament enacted legislation which resulted in New Zealand becoming the first country in the world to provide a national state-sponsored needle exchange programme.
Leading the world
New Zealand has led the world in the development of peer-based and peer-led needle exchange programmes, with an approach that is evidenced to be highly effective and has been replicated in many parts of the world. The NEP now distributes over 3 million needles and syringes each year through a national network of dedicated outlets stretching from Kaitaia to Invercargill and a comprehensive network of pharmacies.
Today the programme remains peer-led and peer-based, and committed to a health and human rights-based service approach for people who use drugs.
Harm reduction approach
Suzy and Caro recently visited the head office of the NEP. This support workforce of 92 frontline staff, the majority of whom have lived experience, works with NEP clients, providing clean needles and syringes and information to reduce harm.
The harm reduction approach includes an understanding that one size does not fit all; that people make their own choices. There are many different recovery paths and all are worthy of celebration. The NEP supports people's choices through information about the safe use of drugs, engaging in conversations and supporting people to link in to relevant community services. Current NEP workforce development activities include providing onsite Hepatitis C rapid testing and training clients and peers how to administer Naltrexone in the case of overdose.
The Christchurch national office base also warehouses all the necessary gear for safe injecting. From this warehouse, 180 pharmacies and retail outlets and the 22 needle exchanges around the country are supplied. This service lives and breathes a person-centred approach - where they are at right now!