AIDS Community Resources is operating a syringe exchange program on the streets of Syracuse.
The program, called Safety First, is designed to reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C infections among people who use needles. It's supported by the New York State Department of Health which has invested $320,000, including $85,000 to buy the van that travels around distributing the needles.
Workers give needles to people who inject drugs, steroids, hormones, or medicine for diabetes. They also provide information about health care, HIV counseling and testing, and drug and alcohol treatment. People can also receive food or toiletries at the van. The program started in Syracuse in December, and so far about 100 people regularly use the service.
Nathan Barron, the coordinator of Safety First, says workers hand out about 1,500 needles each month, but they receive about 1,500 back each month. He says this could be a good sign because people are returning the needles, instead of continuously using them.
Needle exchanges have received some criticism from people expressing concern that they could actually encourage drug use in a community, but Barron disagrees.
"This program is very important," says Barron. "Time and time again, it has been proven in the studies to not just decrease acquisition and transmission of things like HIV and Hepatitis C, but also improve the general well being for the community."
The announcement of the Safety First Syringe Program was part of a larger AIDS awareness campaign called "Paint the Town Red." Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner helped paint a red stripe down South Salina St. This Sunday, the 20th annual AIDS Walk/Run will be held at Beaver Lake Nature Center. That will start at 10 a.m.
Do you think this program is a good idea? Should the state be funding a syringe exchange program in Syracuse? Post your comments below.