Jim Pasinis knows it doesn’t matter whether you are Greek, Asian, a lawyer or a teacher, drug use and addiction knows no socio-economic boundaries.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (2004), thirty-eight percent of Australians aged 14 years and over had used illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime and 15 percent had used an illicit drug at least once in the previous 12 months.
Jim Pasinis should know, because he helps to facilitate the Banyule Needle Exchange Program.
“There is a stigma within the Greek community, as within any community,” he says. “We tend to create barriers around anything we don’t know enough about.”
Pasinis’s desire to reduce the transmission of blood-borne illnesses within the community prompted him to join the Banyule Needle Exchange program back in 1989.
The program also provides drug users with counselling services and substitutions to opiates such as methadone, to help reduce their dependence.
Now as the CEO of Banyule Community Health, Pasinis disagrees that its needle exchange program promotes drug use, as it has been accused of by various circles.
“We are purely a needle and syringe distribution point which provides the community with syringes, needles, swabs, disposable bins and water,” he said.
“We are not here to judge people and to tell them how to run their lives, all we do here is to ensure that whatever practice they involve themselves in is done in a healthy way.”
He underscores that the rates of HIV and Hepatitis C are minuscule in Victoria compared to in countries where needle exchange programs do not exist.
Yet the rates of blood borne illnesses amongst drug users is still alarmingly high in Australia.
Data from the (ABS) in 2000 found that approximately 53% of people with a history of injecting drug use who were seen at needle and syringe programs, tested positive to Hepatitis C.
Pasinis believes that this can be addressed with a range of initiatives including increased government funding, increasing the number of needle exchange programs across various locations, extending opening hours, and extending the program to prisons.”
“There also needs to be more education within the community including in schools…so that if they are going to do it, they need to know how to do it safely,” he said. “Education is a wonderful tool that we can use to build tolerance and break down barriers. Drug addicts are not people from another planet and they need to be treated as people with a particular illness.”
The 59-year-old is also a board member of the ANEX organisation, which seeks to reduce drug related harm.
His organisation has called on the Government for increased funding of needle exchange programs with little response.
“We pay for the running of our programs, purely to benefit the community,” he said. “The Government should be doing that… although they don’t see it as a significant issue to deal with at this time.”