Thousands of needles given away since program started

LAS VEGAS - A first of its kind program offering free needles to drug users is seeing exponential growth, but it's been controversial.

Trac-B Exchange has a unique approach to reduce the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

"Everybody knows somebody who's been affected by this epidemic," said Joe Engle, There is no Hero is Heroin.

He's referring to the opioid epidemic.

A recovering addict himself, Joe Engle put his grief into action after his son died from a heroin overdose in 2011.

Engle started the non-profit "There is no Hero in Heroin" and supports other programs that share similar goals like Trac-B Exchange.

"Harm reduction is a whole umbrella and the actual needle exchange is just one component of it," Engle said.

The program got off to a slow start in February handing out about 90 syringes. The following month, Trac-B Exchange became the first in the nation to offer needle kits in vending machines.

Since then, the program has given out more than 23,000 syringes, 9,000 in the month of June alone.

"We expected that we would have a large number of needle users in our community but we didn't expect for the growth to happen this soon," said Chelsi Cheatom, program manager, Trac-B Exchange.

Each box has: 10 syringes, rubber tourniquets, alcohol swabs, band aids, and a disposal container. Cheatom says the goal is to get as many used needles back.

"Right now we are at a 50 percent return rate and we do ask all of our clients that do not return the syringes, where they're disposing of them?"

The program has been criticized and accused of encouraging drug abuse.

But Cheatom says the focus is to prevent the spread of communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. According to the Southern Nevada Health District, about 9 percent of new HIV infections happen in people who inject drugs.

"It says that this is a very important issue for us to look at, especially now that our country, we're in an opioid epidemic," Cheatom said.

The health district also reports about a 60 percent increase in heroin use in recent years which they say could lead to a new HIV outbreak.

"We need to do something with this opioid epidemic so having an open mind and pass all ways to reducing harm," Engle said.

Trac-B Exchange has two vending machines.. There is one at their offices near Charleston and Jones and another one at Aid for Aids of Nevada near Sahara and Maryland.

The program is looking for a location to install a third machine.

 

 


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