October 5, 2021

New syringe exchange program launches in Marion County

New mobile clinic at Damien Center will offer safe syringe exchange. (Jill Sheridan WFYI)

New mobile clinic at Damien Center will offer safe syringe exchange. (Jill Sheridan WFYI)

Marion County’s second safe syringe exchange program was launched this week. The harm reduction initiative from Damien Center is in partnership with the Marion County Public Health Department.

It will bring a new RV/mobile clinic to more Indianapolis neighborhoods.

Damien Center President and CEO Alan Witchey said specialists will provide syringes and other harm reduction tools including naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug.

“What we know is that these programs save lives, they reduce crime and they make our communities safer,” Witchey said.

The main goal, to reduce the number of HIV cases, is aligned with a federal push to end the epidemic.  Marion County was targeted as an HIV hotspot in 2018 and the initiative aims to decrease new cases 75 percent by 2025.

Harm reduction programs also provide testing, immunizations and connections to treatment.

Damien Center says its current program has resulted in 1600 interventions.

Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine said the goal is to reach more residents.

“And like most health disparities, we see this burden of HIV is disproportionately carried in our African American or Black residents,” Caine said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that new users of syringe exchange programs are five times as likely to enter drug treatment.  They area also associated with a 50 percent reduction in HIV and hepatitis C.

Wichey said this past year and a half has been a difficult one.

“HIV is a pandemic and COVID is a pandemic, we were dealing with two pandemics at the same time,” Witchey said, “and then through on addiction, that’s another essentially a pandemic.”

The program is made possible by a $95,000 matching grant from the Marion County Public Health Department.

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