The Fresno needle exchange program has been providing clean needles and containers to drug users since 1994. The goal is to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. Director Dallas Blanchard says it also protects the community. "When a law enforcement officer comes in contact with someone who has needles, they're properly containerized and that officer's not going to get a needle stick."
Blanchard estimates the program reaches 1500 users a year. He sets up shop every Saturday in west central Fresno for one hour. In that amount of time, he collects close to 10,000 dirty needles. New ones are given out, but so is help. "We're trying to enable people to get into treatment and get into medical care."
Supervisors said that providing clean needles enables drug users.
The change in support for the needle exchange program came with a new county supervisor. Bob Waterston backed it three years ago.
Debbie Poochigian is now in that seat, and did not support it last week. Even if it's not legal, Dr. Marc Lasher says the program will press on. "We will continue to care for our patients who are suffering from disease of drug addiction by providing them with a clean syringe until that individual is ready to get into treatment or rehab."
The Fresno county health department provides HIV and hepatitis C screenings with the needle exchange program. Officials have noticed a disturbing trend at the screenings. HIV prevention coordinator Jena Adams says support for the needle exchange program is needed now more than ever. "We are seeing an increase of drug use among teenagers and college age students with prescription drugs, but what we're not hearing about is that they're progressing from prescription drugs to using heroine and injecting." Prescription drug rehab could be a key part in preventing this from even becoming an issue.