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'Syringe Access Programs' adopted in Traverse City

Traverse City joins Petoskey, Sault Ste. Marie and Grand Rapids in adopting the 'Syringe Access Programs'. The programs would essentially allow organizations to provide free clean needles to drug users, which is currently illegal to do.

GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) -- Traverse City city commissioners are trying to protect those most at risk as diseases like HIV and Hepatitis continue to spread.

During Monday's meeting, commissioners adopted a resolution to allow what is called "Syringe Access Programs" in Traverse City. The city joins Petoksey, Sault Ste. Marie and Grand Rapids in adopting the program.

The programs would essentially allow organizations to provide free clean needles to drug users, which is currently illegal to do.

So to some, giving needles to drug users might sound counterproductive.

But those who work on the front line of the opioid crisis said it's just the opposite.

"We know that people who are injecting drugs will inject drugs even if they have a dirty needle or if they've had to use a dirty needle a hundred times," said Pamela Lynch, the co-director of Harm Reduction Michigan.

According to Lynch's presentation at the meeting, nearly 60-percent of people diagnosed with Hepatitis C use injectable drugs, and because of the stigma, most users don't visit a health clinic or recovery center.

Lynch hopes a syringe program can help get them in the door.

"Syringe access is one of the ways that we engage people and keep them engaged so that we can talk to them with positive messaging, talk to them about how they can take care of their health in their family and their community's health," said Lynch.

"This is just one small piece of really a much larger comprehensive strategy."

Chris Hindbaugh is the CEO of Addiction Treatment Services and was one of the many supporters in attendance.

"If you can embed a program like this inside of a health clinic, where folks will also have access to treatment options, to information, and really kinda come at it for a health and wellness approach, there's really not a counter argument," said Hindbaugh.

Hindbaugh adds that this program will also help keep the public safe. Recently his entire staff had to be vaccinated against these diseases.

So while those implementing the program say it has the potential to save lives, those affected by the crisis say it has already saved theirs and can save even more.

"When I walked through the doors of the needle exchange in Rochester I was treated like a human being, I was treated with dignity and every time I returned I got that same respect. And it really did a lot for me."

"I've had death in my family, it's very close to my heart. And if we can save just one more person, that's just worth everything but we can save a whole lot more than that."

Now that the resolution passed, Lynch says they plan to start their program as soon as they can and would allow people to anonymously register for the needle exchange.

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners will take up the issue next month.

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