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Syringe services explored
Grant County Health Department Examines options
Needle exchange
“The CDC shows that people who participate in the program are five times more likely to enter treatment and three times more likely to be successful, It also reduces the risk of needle sticks and there is a 86 percent reduction in needles found in parks.”
Jeff Kindrai of the Grant County Health Department
A new and possibly controversial program is being explored by the Grant County Health Department.
‘Syringe Services’ was a topic for discussion by the health department during their most recent board meeting.
Syringe services, needle exchange or as the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin calls it, Life Point, is a service providing new, clean needles to intravenous (IV) drug users. The program also offers a desecrate location to return dirty and used ones safely.  This is done in an effort to stem the spread of de HIV/Aids and hepatitis C as well as other blood borne pathogens.
According to the Center for Disease Control nine percent of the HIV infections diagnosed in the United States in 2015 were attributed to IV drug use.
“We are just in the beginning stage of exploring this as a possibility for the county,” Grant County Health Department Director Jeffrey Kindrai said.
Kindrai shared that the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin currently makes stops in Grant county on occasion. However, these stops aren’t always convenient for those who may need the services.
Coupled with rising Hepatitis C numbers in the county and more needles found at during meth lab clean ups, Kindrai feels there is a need for the service.
“We are involved in the clean up when there is a meth lab discovered, and we have been seeing a lot of needles at these sites,” Kindrai said. “The percentage of Hep C infections in the county have increased and that is often associated with needle use and dirty needles.”
Fennimore Chief of Police Chris French also notes that local users travel to Madison to use the needle exchange programs available there.
“It’s not uncommon to find Narcan and other items associated with the needle exchange program when making an arrest or completing a search warrant,” French shared. “If there is research that suggests the needle exchange program would be positive for the community, we are open to trying new things.”
Kindrai did note that at this time Grant County is not looking to add Narcan distribution to part of the offerings if they are pursued. Nothing the laws regarding it would need to be clarified  for future consideration.
If you would have asked Kindrai a year ago if this program was a fit for the county, he would have had a different answer.
“I would have said, ‘No that’s too controversial,’ but after attending a conference and talking with others and learning about the devastating outbreaks in other communities, I am realizing there is a need with what we are seeing, and it’s changed my opinion a bit.”
The devastating outbreak Kindrai is referring to happened in Scott county, Indiana.
  A county with a population of about half of Grant, suffered an “HIV outbreak the likes of which nobody had ever seen,” was how a local news source in Indiana described it.
Around 210 people in the county of fewer than 2,500 were diagnosed with AIDS. Approximately 95 percent of those were also infected with hepatitis C. The outbreak was discovered first in 2015 and was believed to be related to the scores of intravenous drug users who were reusing dirty needles, cottons and cookers.  
Kindrai noted that the community of Scott County was able to get the health crisis under control by utilizing a needle exchange program.
Although many may see the program as controversial, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides statistics supporting more positive outcomes for the programs.
“The CDC shows that people who participate in the program are five times more likely to enter treatment and three times more likely to be successful,” Kindrai shared. “It also reduces the risk of needle sticks and there is a 86 percent reduction in needles found in parks.”
Other positive outcomes that come from the program include increased education, testing, and increased opportunities for individuals to become vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. As well as some programs offering Fentnyl testing strips and condoms.
“This (kind of program) can help people know about their infections and how to better manage  and treat them,” Kindrai noted specifically of people infected with  Hepititis C.
The Public Health of Madison and Dane County currently hosts three locations for Needle Exchange. 2705 E. Washington Ave. 2nd floor, 2300 S. Park St., The Atrium, Suite 2010, and 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Room 507.
The mission statement this department has taken on as part of the exchange program is “To reduce the spread of infections, we provide free needles and risk reduction information and accept used needles for disposal at all offices.”  The program also provides condoms.  As well as testing for HIV and Hepatitis C at their E. Washington Ave location.
There are also active Life Point locations across the state in cities such as La Crosse, Beloit and Milwaukee as well as in Dubuque.
The CDC stresses that access to clean needles is critical in stopping the spread of HIV and other diseases among drug users.
“Access to sterile injection and drug preparation equipment is critical for the prevention of HIV infections among people who inject drugs,” The CDC article stated. “The recent opioid use epidemic increases the potential for HIV outbreaks among persons who inject drugs, particularly in areas with limited prevention services for persons who inject drugs. Thus, failure to respond appropriately to this prevention gap could reverse earlier successes in reducing HIV infections among persons who inject drugs.”
Kindrai stresses though that the department is still in very early stages of exploring the program.
“We’ve had some discussions, but we are still exploring what we may or may not do. We are hopeful for the possibility to prevent communicable diseases in the county and there are a number of these programs going on throughout the state with success. But it will probably take a fair amount of time before we are able to determine if we are able to move forward.”

For more information about Life Point, or the other services the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin offers you can call 800-359-9272 or visit their website at