The program, which opened Nov. 1 at 519 Oxford St., tries to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C in the community by providing new syringes and other supplies, in exchange for used ones, to people using heroin or other opioid drugs, said Waldron and Jeff Markley, executive director of Positive Resource Connection.
Through Park Center, a community mental health center, the program also provides support for people who want to quit using drugs.
Local officials are being pro-active and trying to prevent an HIV outbreak such as the one in 2015 that overwhelmed the small town of Austin in southern Indiana, Markley said.
HIV and hepatitis C can be passed from one person to another if a person uses a syringe or other supplies contaminated by an intravenous drug user. A person carrying either disease potentially then could pass the illnesses to people in the community who don't use drugs.
Officials believe 6,000 to 39,000 people locally are misusing opiate drugs, and about 3,000 probably are using intravenous (IV) heroin or prescription opiates, Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County Health commissioner, reported.
So far, only four people have used the syringe services program, which is open 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays, Waldron said. She hopes more people hear about it from media reports, the health department's website and Facebook page, and through word-of-mouth.
The partner agencies try to keep the program simple and non-threatening, Waldron said.
When a person comes in, he or she is greeted and asked for his or her name, Waldron said. A staff member then asks some basic information about the person's drug use habits and also offers safety tips on how to avoid contracting HIV or hepatitis C. The person receives a week's supply of syringes and related materials, which he or she is asked to bring back the following Tuesday for a new supply of items, Waldron said.
Grants pay for the approximately $6 cost of each weekly syringe kit, she said.
People also are offered the opportunity to be tested for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, she said. They also can speak with an addictions counselor and see a nurse for wound care.
Addictions therapist Rashad Slate of Park Center said he has met with at least one woman three times during the Syringe Services Program hours. She has been in treatment previously and had relapsed.
Slate said he can help people find detoxification programs, where they can go through drug withdrawal under medical care. He also can help them get into counseling programs offered by Park Center, which also will assess whether the person needs medical or mental-health care for issues that may be contributing to their drug abuse.
Positive Resource Connection's Markley said his agency had the space to house the Syringe Services Program. The program also fits well with his agency's mission of preventing new HIV and hepatitis C cases in 12 counties in northeast Indiana and helping people with HIV get treatment to live a healthy life.
Markley predicts the community will see an increase initially in the number of new HIV and hepatitis C cases reported as drug users, who have not sought help previously, come forward to use the Syringe Services Program. But the number of new cases reported then should fall because fewer people will be at risk of using contaminated syringes and drug-use materials.
More InformationSyringe exchange program
WHAT: The local Syringe Services Program provides new syringes for drug users who trade in contaminated ones, as well as offers counseling, HIV and sexually transmitted disease testing and wound care. It is organized by the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, Positive Resource Connection and Park Center.
WHEN: 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays
WHERE: 519 Oxford St., adjacent to Positive Resource Connection
INFORMATION: http://www.allencountyhealth.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FWAllenCountyHD. For information about addictions counseling, call Park Center at 481-2800 or Addictions Therapist Rashad Slate at 755-2139.