|High Demand Shown For Pittsfield's Needle Exchange Program|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
07:19AM / Sunday, July 15, 2018
|Berkshire Health Systems Director of Infection Prevention and Control Michael Perreault reported that the Healthy Steps program has seen a significant increase in clients.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The needle exchange program has collected more than 15,000 dirty needles in the first five months of this year.
According to Berkshire Health Systems Director of Infection Prevention and Control Michael Perreault, that shows the need for the disease prevention program is there.
"Going into this, I don't think was sure what the need was in our community. When I share this with my team at the hospital, this demonstrates that BMC made the right choice by moving forward with the program. Fifteen thousand is a lot of needles to take in, however, if we didn't collect those dirty needles, you have to wonder where these needles would be," he told the Board of Health on Tuesday.
The program, Healthy Steps, opened in September 2017. In just the last four months of that year, 54 people were enrolled and 1,325 dirty needles were collected. It has caught on. In the first five months of this year, 138 more people enrolled.
"For the first five months of 2018, we enrolled an additional 138 people in this program. We've had total entourages, people are coming in multiple times over this time period, we've had 776 visits with our clients," Perreault said.
Not all of them are sticking with it but for good reason. Perreault said the program was there to help 15 people enter recovery programs.
"Our clinic screeners have really been able to build relationships with the clients that come in and I'm happy to report we've assisted with 15 getting into -- when they decided and the time was right for them -- a treatment program," he said.
The program provides a one-for-one exchange of needles. That means someone can bring in one dirty needle and receive one clean one. The hope is that those using intravenous drugs will use clean needles instead of sharing dirty ones to prevent the spread of disease such as Hepatitis C that has been grown locally over recent years.
"We teach them how to use alcohol wipes and minimize the risk of infection and contamination. Most of our numbers are because of clients referring other people," Perreault said.
The program is not only helping prevent those using from catching a disease but also to help the families of those addicted to drugs.
"People that are using substances come from all walks of life and they aren't people that you necessarily would be picking out as a substance user. A significant other may not know their loved one is using. We're keeping people's kids and children safe," Perreault said.
Many are now getting tested. Berkshire Health Systems provided tests for such disease prior to the exchange but the total numbers are increasing. Perreault said in 2017, 662 clients were tested and in 2018, that number is expected to be closer to 800. That has led to a slight increase in finding new cases. He said of those in 2017 tested, less than 4 percent were new cases while so far in 2018, more than 5 percent of those are new cases.
In December, Healthy Steps launched an overdose education class and started to distribute the overdose reversal drug Narcan. In just one month in 2017, 15 people enrolled and there were 12 refills of Narcan. But, nobody reported using it to reverse an overdose.
So far in 2018, 397 people enrolled, there have been 74 refills, and 11 people reported back that the Narcan was used to reverse an overdose.
"We're very happy it is getting into the hands it needs to be in," he said.
The opening of such a clinic was intended to reach a certain population of people - those who were still using but not ready to enter treatment programs. And Perreault believes they've made a lot of headway into that population through its outreach efforts.
Needle exchange programs tend to be controversial and there were plenty in Pittsfield in opposition when the question of whether or not to open one began. Those who oppose it tend to say that it is encouraging drug use and attracting crime. But, those in favor say it is a harm reduction program intended to reduce the spread of diseases and to provide help for those ready to seek treatment.