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County program uses needle exchange to ease opiod abuse

Nacogdoches Miller, The TrailBlazer

A program in Rowan County exchanges more than needles in the community’s effort to combat the effects by opioid abuse.

Once a week The Rowan County Health Department opens its doors with the Harm Reduction Program to anonymity, to help those suffering from addiction find clean resources, including needles, and to find a path to recovery.

Since its inception in 2017, first-time patients are given information on the program, health risks involved with sharing needles, treatment options available through the clinic and Pathways services.

They also get 40 new needles.

“After that, they get the number of clean syringes that they bring in, in used syringes,” said Faye Skeens, a retired nursing coordinator. 

Patients are given an identification number that is only used inside the program.

“We set up a pseudo number for them and that’s their identification card,” said Skeens. “And that just shows the re-visits for that specific number.”

Skeens added that it benefits the community by helping contain the spread of infectious pathogens like HIV and other blood-borne pathogens, as well as cutting down on the number of used needles laying around.  

“In each person that we increase the safety of, then we’re increasing the safety of the community,” said Skeens.

A misconception around these programs is that people think it is an enabler that helps contribute to drug use, but Alyssa Osborne, with the Ryan White Program, disagrees.

“I think it’s really beneficial to keep the spread of diseases and keep the community clean,” said Osborne, who performs free HIV test for patients who come in for the exchange.

“That’s what people don’t realize: is how much of an impact it makes on syringes in the community,” she added.

For more information on the Harm Reduction Program you can contact the Rowan County Health Department at 606-784-8954 or check out the program Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.