New Needle Exchange Rules May Increase Participation

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(Host) The State of Vermont will likely allow changes to needle exchange programs in Burlington, Brattleboro and St. Johnsbury in an attempt to boost participation. The programs offer free needles to intravenous drug users.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Right now Vermont’s three needle exchange programs require people to visit a fixed location to turn in used needles for clean ones. But the state is considering allowing the operators of the exchange programs to take needles to users at their homes or other locations deemed safe.

Outreach workers will deliver the needles and provide information on the prevention of AIDS and Hepatitis C, which are spread by the use of unclean needles. Susanna Weller is acting director of the HIV-AIDS program at the Department of Health.

(Weller) “We here at the Health Department are really excited about that prospect because we feel that we’ll be able to reach more people with this service.”

(Zind) Needle exchange programs have operated in Vermont for several years. Weller says programs in Burlington and Brattleboro programs have been successful in getting people to come in to exchange needles. But in St. Johnsbury only one person has been taking advantage of the program for the past several months.

Kendall Farrell is executive director of Vermont Cares, which operates the St. Johnsbury needle exchange. Farrell says the program has struggled. The program caused controversy in the community when it began two years ago and Farrell says that may explain why few people have used it.

(Farrell) “It may be some of the controversy about that program is still lingering. I know that at one point when the controversy was still highest one of the local papers had a reporter parked outside of the needle exchange. That’s going to deter people even if it happened only a couple of times.”

(Zind) Susanna Weller of the Health Department says outreach programs are offered in many other states. Weller says the first priority of needle exchange programs is to prevent the spread of disease. But she says the information exchange that’s a required part of the program is also important.

(Weller) “We’ve found that the majority of people who access needle exchange in this state are referred to treatment. So that people who are accessing needle exchange can work to end their drug use.”

(Zind) The needle exchange programs will need state permission before they can offer outreach. The state is in the process of creating guidelines which are expected to be in place this fall.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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