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County’s needle-sharing program gets a booster

Island County commissioners have renewed a contract to continue to provide a needle-exchange program for local drug addicts.

The $50,800 contract calls for the Island County Health Department, in partnership with the Snohomish Health District, to maintain a County AIDS Task Force, conduct HIV testing and engage in intervention strategies such as the needle-exchange program.

The bulk of the money will go to counseling and HIV testing; $10,800 dollars will go to the needle exchange.

In the exchange program, “high risk” drug users are offered a trade of any used hypodermic needles for sterile, unused ones on a one-for-one basis.

The objective is to stop the spread of disease among intravenous drug users who typically will reuse or share needles.

The Island County Health Department Web site calls the program, “An essential part of a comprehensive prevention plan.”

Roger Case, Island County health officer, said the needle-exchange program started in 1995, but he feels that the program may not be as extensive today.

“I do know that early on, before pharmacies could lawfully provide needles to anyone requesting them, we had a very busy exchange going on. I suspect it has dropped off considerably since then,” Case said. Pharmacies were allowed to provide needles starting in 2002.

In Island County the program assists over 100 drug addicts per year and reaches out to more than 100 more “at-risk” or HIV infected individuals.

Needle-exchange programs do not increase drug use, according to research studies that have been conducted. Federal studies have shown that needle- exchange does not increase drug use when conducted with referrals to both drug treatment and HIV medical care and support services.

Benefits of the needle-exchange are not easily measured. Some of those who seek out the exchange program are more transient and do not return to the program for follow up. Many drug users acquire needles through pharmacies or other means and therefore never register with the county.

For more information on Aids Task Force activities, and opportunities for involvement, call Karen Grossman at 678-7932 or 360-321-5111 ext. 7932

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