Stark County hosts needle exchange program

Posted at 11:20 AM, Jun 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-23 17:29:02-04

Stark County is fighting back against the opioid epidemic in Northeast Ohio by launching its Stark Wide Approach to Prevention (SWAP) program.

Each Friday afternoon, residents will be able to visit the Canton City Health Department for a variety of free services, including: HIV and Hepatitis C testing, Hepatitis A and B vaccinations, Narcan training and distribution, condoms and safe sex supplies and safer drug use supplies and clean syringe access. 

"The purpose of SWAP is to provide new syringes and collect used syringes from injection drug users to reduce transmission of blood-borne disease and protect the community at large from risk of improperly disposed needles," the Canton City Health Department wrote in a press release. 

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Although the Canton City Health Department has created the program to assist drug users, people with diabetics and residents with other medical conditions can use the program as a way to dispose of their medical equipment as well. 

"SWAP is a program geared towards people who inject drugs," said Diane Thompson, the health department's director of nursing. "However, it's an anonymous program, so we won't turn anyone away. People do not need to come in and explain to us why exactly they are here." 

The only requirement set by the program is that it is exchange-based. In order to get new or clean syringes, participants will have to exchange used or old syringes.

Thompson originally estimated the program cost at $150,000 per year, including costs of all personnel involved with the program. Currently, she said the health department is only managing the cost of supplies needed for the exchange, which totals about $40,000 per year. 

She estimates that Narcan training will be widely-used by the program, allowing residents to obtain medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Training will take participants less than one hour, allowing them to leave with a Narcan kit. 

All services will be provided free of charge each Friday from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Appointments are not necessary.