Health department to launch syringe-exchange program

SAGINAW (WJRT) - (04/12/19) - The Saginaw County Health Department will soon be taking a new approach to fighting drug abuse and infectious diseases.

A nearly $197,000 grant from Mid-State Health Network is allowing the SCHD to launch a Syringe Service Program. The Saginaw County Board of Commissioners are expected to formally accept the grant at an upcoming meeting.

"Participants of the program will be able to walk in exchange their dirty needles for clean ones and some of the cooking equipment that can spread those diseases, and you know hopefully as they continue to come back, they're going to learn a little bit more each time," explained SCHD Health Officer Christina Harrington.

The needles will be swapped out for free, and with no questions asked.

But health workers hope to reach people in-need through testing and education.

"Are they going to look at it the first time or the second time or the third time? They may not. But eventually when they develop a relationship built on trust, that we're here as a judgement free zone," Harrington said.

The SCHD hopes to partner with other local health agencies, as well as police departments to implement the program.

Harrington said data shows a person is six-times more likely to enter treatment when they are part of a syringe service program. "So providing this wrap-around approach, we can really look at individuals, what their needs are, educate them properly on how, if at the end of the day going to use, how to do it in a safe manor."

Harrington said a similar program, called The Red Project, is up and running in Grand Rapids.

The community has not seen an increase in illegal drug use, instead there has been positive outcomes.

"They've seen HIV reductions dramatically in their communities by offering the Syringe Service programs," Harrington said.

The program has the potential to help people who don't use drugs as sometimes needles are left in random places.

"HIV can live in a dirty needle for up to 42 days. So we can have accidental exposures, or obviously people picking that up and using that to inject," Harrington said.

Hepatitis is also a concern with used needles.

"If we can just reduce the presence of those diseases in our community, everyone can be healthier," Harrington said.

There are still a lot of details to be worked out for the program, so they don't have an exact date for when it will officially launch.

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