Health Dept. Looking At Establishing Needle Exchange

Officials say it’s a way to get addicts to get into treatment.


Frederick,Md (KM). A syringe services program could be coming to Frederick County. The local Health Department has been traveling arond the county, making presentations to small and large groups about how a needle exchange would work. “We’ve been able to, in the last several months, conduct  focus groups and interviews with stakeholders in the community as well,” says Jessica Ellis, the program’s coordinator. “And we’ve begun doing presentations as well: with small groups and then large community groups”

Ellis and other Health Department officials held a community meeting in Thurmont on Monday  evening.
She says there is some support for setting up this program in the community. “And what we know to date from the information that we’ve gathered  is that we do have a 97.5% support rate. So individuals are saying that we need this service, and are in support of it,” says Ellis.

Under a needle exchange program, addicts would be able to exchange dirty needles for clean needles, thereby preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis-C. Ellis says syringe services programs do not encourage drug use. “We do know data supports that syringe services programs do not increase any use. And that individuals that participate in syringe services programs are actually five-times more likely to enter treatment that indivi9duals who do not  participate,” she says.

Supporters say these programs encourage addicts to trade in their dirty needles and seek treatment for their addictions. But Ellis says that’s not the reason for the needle exchange. “Drug use is occurring whether the community wants to accept that or not,” she says. “So this program is looking at a way, instead of banishing these people, helping them do their behavior in a safer way.”

The city of Baltimore has set up a needle exchange, and Ellis says she has seen observed how it works. She says it is effective.   “And I was able to witness and watch interactions that I’ve been trained on in trainings that the state has been providing to individuals in my position and in peer positions,” Ellis says. “It was very eye-opening to see  it actually happen, these interactions between staff and participants happen first hand.”

Frederick County has received a $23,000 Maryland State Department of Health grant to conduct a feasibility study on setting up a syringe services program. Other counties interested in establishing needle exchange programs are Washington, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Prince George’s and Dorchester. .


By Kevin McManus