Our story


Exchange Supplies is a unique social enterprise – established to supply products, information, and services to improve and prolong the lives of people who inject drugs.

We have grown to become the world's leading specialist supplier of injecting equipment thanks to our loyal customers buying the range of unique products that we have developed, our extensive range of other injecting equipment, low prices, great service, passion, and ethos... and this is our story.

It all began with Andrew Preston, working as a nurse running the prescribing service, and needle exchange for the drug service in West Dorset. While a drug worker, Andrew had written a number of books for drug users – including what works? a safer injecting guide for Exeter Drugs Project, The Methadone, Safer Injecting, Detox, and Rehab Handbooks, and The Methadone Briefing – a practitioners guide to methadone prescribing.

He had also negotiated the UK’s first local agreement with the police to allow the sale of citric acid to heroin users (they need it to make the drug dissolve, without it they use lemon juice which can cause blindness when injected) ...and had begun campaigning to get the problem resolved nationally.

He tried hard to persuade companies that were well placed to do it, to commercially supply drug paraphernalia. Some couldn’t see the need or potential, others could, showed interest but were then dissuaded from doing anything because of the illegality (then) of supplying any paraphernalia other than needles and syringes (the detail on that story is here).

In retrospect it's not that surprising, but at the time it was very frustrating that no one would do it. It became clear that if anyone was going to do it, it was going to have to be activists. Being freelance, and so free of organisational constraints, Andrew set about sourcing a manufacturer who could put small doses of citric acid into a sachet.

The first order of 1 million citric sachets was paid for using savings and money that was set aside to pay income tax on our first year's income as freelancers. This was fairly high-risk behaviour – losing all the money was possible because supplying drug users with citric was illegal. So, having assured our wives it would all be fine, and even if it wasn't, we were doing something important, that needed to be done, we set about seeing if we could make paraphernalia supply work.

Having placed the order, Exchange Supplies Ltd was registered. With experience of printing and selling his publications as 'Exchange Health Information' a name describing the core philosophy that it's all about the productive exchange of information between drug users and health professionals – without too much thought about the name – 'Exchange Supplies' was created.

The limited company was registered on 1st October 2002. We could have been a charity, but charities have to have trustees and they are personally liable for the actions of the charity, and as we intended to break the law, it seemed wrong to ask people to take responsiblity for that... so the only other option at the time was to be a company.

What we were doing later got given the label 'social enterprise' and it is one we embrace. In our case, being a social enterprise means that we have health and social objectives which, in our case, means that we have as key priorities:
  • reducing the health impacts of injecting drug use;
  • developing injecting equipment that causes less harm;
  • providing employment and training to people with a history of drug dependence; and
  • improving the understanding of injecting drug use.

Of course, without core funding, to do what our customers need us to do, we have to be a successful and profitable company.

The business skills needed to make us a sucsessful enterprise had to be learned from scratch (because Andrew came from an NHS background) but developing business skills, and adding them to a comprehensive understanding of drug use its related harm, and how to prevent it, means we can play an essential and unique part in limiting the damage caused by illicit drug use. It also means that that we are able to do things that companies with a motive of maximising profit for their shareholders wouldn’t consider - without bankrupting ourselves in the process.

Our ethos is that if something needs doing, is worth doing, and we can see a way of achieving it, we’ll put it in the plan, and do our collective best to make sure it happens. We prioritise on the basis of what will do most to reduce harm.

Within a couple of years, with our help, the law was being systematically broken all over the UK, with the full agreement of the police. As new agreements were negotiated, we posted them on our website which in turn influenced other police forces to agree to allow the supply of citric. Of course the fact that it did work has been as much down to the enthusiasm and willingness of drug workers to push boundaries, and stand up for the rights of users, as it was to anything that we did.

Citric acid supply was quickly recognised as influential in helping needle exchanges to stay in contact with injectors and The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended a change in the law and, in 2003, the supply of selected items of paraphernalia became legal.

After the law changed, we were suddenly no longer alone in supplying paraphernalia. This is a good thing – we’re glad that our products have become mainstream – but (of course) we hope that the field will continue to value the quality, ethics and investment in research and development that we provide, and continue to support the Exchange Supplies project by choosing our products.

The team during this time was growing - with Helen Phillips joining Andrew within a few months, and Nick Wilson joining within a few years, growing to around 15 full and part time staff now.

Getting back to the history... after launching citric, we were also the first to supply other paraphernalia items to address long-standing needs, including:
  • Stericups;
  • VitC;
  • Water amps specifically designed for injecting drug users;
  • Sterifilts (all at the time we started illegal, and subsequently legalised)

as well as some legal things too like:
  • DVD resources to train and inform workers and injectors;
  • Syringe identifiers; and, when only glass amps were available
  • Amp snappers to make opening them safer.

Having been to the Australian annual conference on drugs Andrew had realised that annual national conferences could be an essential part of a dynamic and developing field and so, with Monique Tomlinson we established and organised the annual National Drug Treatment Conference (in association with The Alliance); and National Conference on Injecting Drug Use (in association with the National Needle Exchange Forum), which we ran until 2010, when with the field much more established (and better catered for by conferences) we decided to focus on new product development, at which point Monique changed roles becoming an account manager to help us keep in touch with customers in and around London, and the midlands.

In May 2007 Exchange Supplies launched the nevershare syringe - the world's first syringe designed for injecting drug users, with different coloured plungers to prevent accidental sharing.

In 2008 we delivered the Harm Reduction Works campaign for the NTA / Department of Health, and also launched the world's first aluminium foil pack, designed to facilitate the transition from injecting drugs to smoking them.

In 2010 we launched our comprehensive range of injecting equipment – making available the full range of needles to injecting drug users for the first time.

In September 2011 we launched the 2ml Nevershare - the world's first syringe for detachable needles designed for injecting drug users, and in February 2012 we launched the The LDS colour, the first low dead space 1ml syringe for detachable needles designed for injecting drug users.

In January 2013 we introduced our own brand of quality, low cost Unisharp separate hypodermic needles.

In March 2013 we launched by the world's first affordable low dead space detachable needle - the Total Dose orange (25g) in both 16mm and 25mm lengths.

These needles are a great step forward in the reduction of risk because they retain far less blood, so in the event of re-use the risk of HIV infection is much reduced.

In June 2013 we placed an order for a tool to make a low dead space blue needle hub; the next most popular size of needle, which was launched in the summer of 2014, and in the autumn of 2014 green total dose needles were added to the range.

In September 2014 Foil was added to the list of items exempted from the general prohibition on supply of articles to be used for the consumption or preparation of drugs.

In early 2015 we added a luer lock to option to the 2ml Nevershare, to give the needles a more secure fit.

In 2016 we added the Unisharp fixed 1ml syringes with colour plungers to the range in 27G, 29G and 30G needle sizes.

In August 2016 we added the foil roll to the product line, and started a trial of a foil pack of 5 sheets with Greater Glasgow Health Board.

In July 2017 we added a 25mm blue to the Total Dose range of needles.

In August 2017 we placed the first order for a Unisharp 27G fixed 1ml for the Australian market, to be distributed by Terumo Australia.





CONTACT

Exchange Supplies,
1 Great Western Industrial Centre,
Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1RD, UK

info@exchangesupplies.org

01305 262244

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