Needle Exchange Program to Expand, Stop Spread of Disease

By Megan Carpenter |

Published 06/09 2014 11:33PM

Updated 06/10 2014 12:12AM

BURLINGTON, Vt.- The organization Vermont Cares plans to implement a needle exchange program across the state.  The goal is to fight the spread of diseases.

Executive Director Peter Jacobsen says the organization's needle exchange program has grown since it started 15 months ago.

"Out of our St. Johnsbury office, we're exchanging about 120,000 used syringes each year," says Jacobsen.

The program mainly serves St. Johnsbury, Montpelier, Barre, and Rutland County.  Jacobsen says it's a service all of Vermont needs.

"Our initiative has been to grow and expand our outreach exchange program by which we can reach people who are using injection drugs or otherwise potentially sharing needles," says Jacobsen.

Fletcher Allen Health Care Emergency Physician Dr. Mario Trabulsy says the program would curb the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.  She says those are two common diseases spread through needle sharing.

"Over the course of the last five years to decade, that's been a huge problem, especially Hepatitis C," says Trabulsy.

The exchange program would be free and mobile, with volunteers driving to cities and towns which have agreed to participate.  Jacobsen says Newport City Council has already declined and reactions from other places are mixed.

"They think talking about drug use and giving out free equipment is going to expand drug use, but we do not believe that," says Jacobsen.  "We believe users are going to use whether or not they have sterile equiptment.  The sterile equiptment is to keep them safer."

Jacobsen says he'll spend about a year reaching out to Northwestern Vermont first.  While an exchange program is a temporary solution, Dr.  Trabulsy says it's a bandaid on Vermont's growing drug problem.

"If you want to save people's lives and improve society, where money ought to be spent is in the prevention and treatment of mental health problems and substance abuse," says Trabulsy.

For how to dispose of dirty needles properly, click here.

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