Members of the Indiana Recovery Alliance will give away clean syringes, cookers and other supplies that make injecting intravenous drugs safer than sharing used syringes. The exchange will take place Feb. 14.
The IRA will be the first non-profit in Indiana to operate a syringe exchange program. Volunteers made the announcement last Friday on the organization’s Facebook page and in a press release that they would run the program in IRA’s offices in Bloomington at 500 W. Fourth St., Suite 2. Volunteers will also distribute syringes from the IRA’s mobile unit around town.
“This is just a small part of what we’ve been doing the last few years,” IRA Project Coordinator Christopher Abert said. “But now people using drugs are empowered to make a positive change in their lives.”
On Friday, Abert and other IRA volunteers met with the media in their office on Fourth Street. The supplies were already organized for their opening day in plastic tubs. They included clean syringes, carrying containers, cotton swabs, condoms, lube, cookers, acidifiers, alcohol and clean water.
The new syringe exchange is intended to prevent an HIV outbreak similar to the one in Scott County, Indiana, the IRA said.
State health officials from the Indiana State Department of Health have identified 188 people who tested positive for HIV after sharing used syringes in Scott County last year.
Syringe exchange programs in other Indiana counties have reduced the transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne pathogens in people who inject drugs, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
Abert, along with several other IRA volunteers, will negotiate with participants of the syringe exchange about the number of syringes they can get from the program during a single visit, he said.
“There’s a rapport you build with them on a personal level,” Abert said. “We don’t keep any records as far as identity.”
Indiana law makes it illegal for health departments to use federal or state funds to support the development, implementation or evaluation of syringe exchange programs like the one opening in Bloomington. To finance the operation of Monroe County’s syringe exchange, the Monroe County Health Department said the IRA has collected donations and grants from places like Amethyst House, Centerstone and the City of Bloomington, among others to support its program.
Alyson Grider, outreach coordinator with the IRA, said the syringe exchange program will reach people who usually fall outside the scope of traditional public health care systems.
“We’ve worked hard over the last year to gain trust and build rapport with a highly stigmatized and criminalized population through our street outreach project,” Grider said.
In addition to operating its new syringe exchange program, the IRA said it will continue offering free HIV/HCV antibody testing, naloxone training and overdose reversal training to first responders in Monroe, Brown, Lawrence and Jackson counties.
When asked about the number of people who would make use of the exchange, Abert shrugged his shoulders.
“Who knows,” he said. “We’ll have to see and find out.”