A CONTROVERSIAL needle exchange program has been given the green light for Ferntree Gully.
Department of Health spokesman Bram Alexander confirmed it had advised the Knox Community Health Service the program would be implemented.
The location of the service near schools caused an outcry when the idea was first floated, but Mr Alexander said community consultation found there was a ‘‘low level of concern’’ within the community.
He said information packs had been sent out to 1500 homes, but only 105 responses were received.
Of the 73 businesses involved in face-to-face consultation, five objected to the move, 20 were in favour of the program and 48 said they were ‘‘indifferent’’.
The first needle exchange program was established in 1987.
Mr Alexander said there was evidence such programs protected the community from blood-borne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.
Since 2008, there have been 24 cases of newly acquired Hepatitis C in Knox, while in neighbouring municipalities Maroondah and Monash there have been seven —both cities have needle exchange programs.
Mr Alexander said the exchange programs encouraged drug users to access other health services while they were collecting their clean injecting materials.
He told the Weekly there were needle exchanges near schools in other areas and that the service’s workers ‘‘have a very good relationship with the school communities’’.
A consultative committee will be established to provide advice on the implementation of the program, with representatives from KCHS, schools, small business owners, police, Knox Council, Eastern Melbourne Medicare Local and the health department.
Mr Alexander said he couldn’t confirm when the program would begin but that it would ‘‘take a few months at least’’.