Springfield approves needle exchange program

(Western Mass News file photo)

The spiraling opioid crisis has led Springfield's public health officials to create a needle exchange program.

The city said that the new plan could help save lives for those suffering from the pangs of addiction.

Advocates said that the time is now to start a needle exchange program.

Now, they are simply working out the finer details.

"This is a life-saving intervention," said Dr. Peter Friedmann with Baystate Medical Center.

Springfield's Public Health Council voted unanimously in favor of starting a syringe service program in the city.

Injection drug users can trade in used needles in exchange for clean ones.

"The city of Springfield since the 1970s, 1980s has had a heroin epidemic. It's important because of the opioid crisis and our need to not only have syringe access, but treatment beds and wrap-around services," said Helen Caulton-Harris, Springfield's commissioner of health and human service.

Springfield has the third highest rate of HIV in the Commonwealth.

Supporters said that this is a logical step in keeping residents healthy.

"We have the highest incidents of Hepatitis C in this country that we've seen in decades. These are people who do care about their lives and do care about trying to be as safe and healthy as possible, but they are in the throes of a chronic disease," Friedmann explained.

The program may also make financial sense for taxpayers.

Syringes cost pennies, while treating HIV costs hundreds of thousands of dollars ever year.

However, some worry that syringe service programs encourage drug use.

Supporters said it simply isn't true.

"They do a lot more than just needle exchange. They provide open access for services, including HIV testing. They facilitate treatment entry for people," Friedmann noted.

More than a dozen communities in Massachusetts have rolled out similar programs in the past 18 months.

Advocates told Western Mass News that most of these cities and towns have lower rates of injection drug use and HIV infection.

"This is a huge step forward for our city," Friedmann added.

There's no word yet on when the program will be rolled out.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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