York County plans to launch syringe exchange program for heroin addicts

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YORK, Pa. -- The number of heroin-related deaths in York County has been rising over the past few years. In 2015, there were 65 heroin-related deaths, while in 2013, there were 17.

Because of the growing problem, the county's heroin task force plans to launch a syringe exchange program.

The program is mobile and representatives will go out into the community and distribute bags with clean syringes and exchange them for used ones.

Pam Gay has been York County coroner for two years and said the heroin epidemic is not just a problem here, it's a problem throughout the state. She said people who use heroin are going to use no matter if their needles are clean or dirty. So giving them clean needles only lowers the risk of spreading diseases.

Gay said, "These programs do not increase IV drug use in the cities that they go into. In fact quite the opposite they actually over time decrease HIV, Hepatitis C rates drastically that are contracted through IV drug use."

The program helps more than just the addicts.

"They get the dirty needles off the street so that waste workers don't stick themselves, law enforcement when they come across them in the street, children, sometimes these are around restaurants and playgrounds," she said.

The exchange is privately funded and no taxpayer dollars are being used.

She said, "How it hits home the most is when you say to that person you know if the addict contracts HIV or Hepatitis C, many times they have to apply for Medicaid eventually. You will be paying for their medical treatment that way."

The service also provides resources for the addicts to get clean. Former heroin users volunteer and talk to addicts.

Gay said, "When they see that that person is functioning and contributing back and has a purpose in their life and seems to have their act together, it really inspires some of these individuals to get into treatment."

For more information on the program, go to these websites.

http://www.richmondregister.com/news/potential-to-fight-disease/article_d7f51c4c-e24b-11e5-8cf4-97f951fd8b7a.html

http://www.npr.org/2016/01/08/462412631/congress-ends-ban-on-federal-funding-for-needle-exchange-programs