Contributing Writer: Madeleine Richey
Community in crisis: infected needles spread HIV and Hepatitis C
The instant it takes for a needle to puncture skin can be detrimental to a person’s health—not just because of the drug it might be carrying, but because of who might have used it before. Numbers of injection drug users are rising, as are the numbers of people resorting to used needles to get them. And as used needles circulate, so do HIV and Hepatitis C.
When the syringe services program (SSP), which is often known as a “needle exchange”, opened two years ago, it was in response to a public health emergency declaration issued in northeast Indiana, October 2016. With the increase in injected drug use, and the related rise in HIV and Hepatitis C incidents, it was clear that if nothing was done the problem would only continue to grow and endanger the health of our communities. However, as in many other places, starting a syringe services program was controversial.
More than just a needle exchange
How can a service providing needles to drug users be good for our communities? Contrary to popular belief, syringe services programs do not promote drug use. The sole goal of the Allen County Syringe Services Program is to decrease the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV by removing infected needles from communities where they might circulate. However, the on-site assistance available to users visiting the syringe services program, such as wound care, treatment referrals, confidential HIV and Hepatitis C testing, and confidential addiction services counseling can provide a way out of addiction for those in need.
For two years, Positive Resource Connection has been proud to host the Allen County Syringe Services Program and assist vulnerable members of our community with getting the resources they need. But it’s time for the program to move to a new address: the Health Department’s Specialty Services Building at 4817 New Haven Ave., Fort Wayne, IN 46803. “I’m proud that we had the ability to house it [syringe services program] for nearly two years and help get it established and going strong,” says Executive Director of Positive Resource Connection Jeff Markley. “It’s been a great collaborative project and has worked out really well for all involved. We will, of course, continue to promote it and support it as it goes through this transition.”
How does it work?
Open every Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., the syringe services program offers a 1:1 exchange of clean needles for potentially infectious ones. Anyone over the age of 18, whether they are a resident of Allen County or otherwise, can utilize the services anonymously. If you don’t want to give a name, they can help develop a unique identifier that doesn’t require a birth date or similar information. Since law enforcement is aware of and supports the syringe services program, the Allen County Department of Health does not foresee any repercussions for people seen entering the location during operating hours.
Proof in the numbers
In many states, syringe services programs are still illegal, but according to the Center for Disease Control they’ve been proven effective. A study of New York’s program from 1990 to 2002 found that the HIV prevalence fell from 50 percent to 17 percent, and that the occurrence of Hepatitis C in HIV-negative intravenous drug users fell from 80 percent to 59 percent.[i] Preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is also cost effective, reducing the amount paid for treatment each year by reducing the number of infections. According to the World Health Organization, there is no evidence to support the idea that needle exchange programs increase drug use in communities.[ii]
[i] Access to clean syringes. (2016, August 05). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/policy/hst/hi5/cleansyringes/index.html
[ii] Evidence for Action Technical Papers: Effectiveness of Sterile Needle and Syringe Programming in Reducing HIV/AIDS Among Injecting Drug Users [PDF]. (n.d.) World Health Organization.
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