Needle exchange programs aim to reduce the spread of hepatitis C.
Organizers of Wayne County’s exchange program are considering a switch in the type of needles handed out as they work to ease the county prosecutor’s concerns about a sharp rise in illegal syringe possession cases.
In 2016, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office charged 84 people with possession of a syringe with intent to inject heroin or another illegal drug. That’s a Level 6 felony punishable by a sentence of between six months and 2½ years.
Through mid-November of 2017, that number had grown to 223.
Shipman said he’s been told by local law enforcement that the county’s syringe exchange is at least partially to blame because participants have sold or traded the needles for drugs.
But because the syringes handed out look no different than those commonly used by local pharmacies and health care providers, it was hard to be sure.
That could change soon.
Lisa Suttle, director of Reid Health’s psychiatric service line, is researching two new syringes that would be visually distinctive from those currently given out.
She’s made sure the new needles aren’t being used elsewhere in the area and plans to test how well they can be discerned from the more common variety when mixed together in the containers used to gather dirty syringes.
Being able to easily count the needles is important because the people working the exchange can’t reach in and remove them without risking their own health.
“We’re hopeful that will help make everyone more comfortable with what we’re doing and tracking those needles,” Suttle said.
The new version of the syringes would cost about 20 cents more apiece than the ones now being distributed and would be provided by Reid Health. That would bring them in line with the original price of the needles that have been provided by Reid in the past.
“As the program progressed, different avenues were used to obtain the needles and the cost was lower,” Suttle said. “We will just go back to what was originally put in the budget for the cost of the needles since the beginning of the program.
“On our part, it’s well worth it.”
Wayne County Commissioner Mary Anne Butters said exchange organizers also will be providing more information about the program to Shipman at regular intervals.
“We agreed that communication could be improved greatly, so we’re going to give the prosecutor (a quarterly report) to show the number of individuals, the age range, (etc.),” she said.
The goal is to provide a report of the fourth quarter’s results to Shipman by the third week of January, Butters said. At that time, a discussion also will be had about the potential syringe switch.
“I hope our meeting in January with the prosecutor will assure him that we’ve resolved it,” Butters said.
Read full article: New-look needles could help keep tabs on Wayne County’s exchange
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