Since legislators authorized needle exchange programs in North Dakota in 2017, Fargo Cass Public Health has submitted their request to provide a needle exchange program and hopes to see it up and running by the end of March.
A needle exchange program is a program in which intravenous (IV) drug users can bring their used needles and be provided with sterile needles for free. The aim of this program is to reduce the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. It will also be a place where users can receive information about the diseases they may contract from re-using needles and addiction. Information on sexually transmitted diseases and safe sex practices will also be provided, according to Dr. John Baird of Fargo Cass Public Health.
On top of clean needles, people who take advantage of the program can also receive rapid tests for HIV and other diseases. The services will be provided at a city-owned building near downtown Fargo to ensure accessibility and will be open Monday through Friday for about four hours daily.
Although needle exchanges have been around since the 1980s, North Dakota began to realize their importance due to the high number of deaths related to the opioid crisis and rise in infectious diseases, particularly HIV and hepatitis C.
Concerns that people often have with providing these types of programs is that it only enables the drug use. “I don’t see it that way,” Dr. Baird said. “It’s the opposite of enabling; we’re acknowledging that people want to get help and assistance.”
Additionally, several studies following the opening of several needle exchange programs in the 1980s found that places that had them often saw a decrease in people who use their services. That means that the number of IV drug users are going down because fewer people need the service of clean needles.
Dr. Baird reminds the North Dakota State community that if someone is struggling with addiction, even if it’s not with IV drugs, to feel free to stop by the center once it’s up and running to get help with their addiction.