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Needle exchange program gives options to individuals in Syracuse

All of New York state is now covered by a needle exchange program sponsored by the state health department.

Syracuse was one of the last communities to join the  program, and so far, it's working well.

The program's big silver van has a small sign that says, “Safety First: Syringe Exchange Program.” This is where IV drug users and others can exchange their dirty needles for  clean ones.

Belinda Felder works in the van. "We're able to give them up to 600 needles a month. We want to get them in the behavior of taking one shot, one needle," Felder said.

The idea is to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C infections which often show up in IV drug users when they share needles. That’s not all, says coordinator Nathan Barron.

The goal is to get the individuals into one of their participating agencies as quickly as possible.

"We have daily contact with some individuals, and when they are ready, we're able to catch them at that moment, and we are ready to get them right into one of our participating agencies such as SPH or Crouse, and fast track their intake into a detoxification program," Barron said.

The program has been bringing clean needles to almost 100 injection drug users since January. It helps not only drug users but also diabetics who have no insurance, and people injecting hormones and vitamins.

Felder has seen a change in their behavior.

"Sometimes I could be on this van with them for a half an hour, just in conversation, because a lot of them have no support system.  People just want to be heard, and they don't know where to turn,” Felder said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.