A program in Merced will soon provide clean needles to drug users in an attempt to reduce the transfer of diseases, according to doctors.
The needle-exchange program is a two-year pilot project overseen by the Merced Family Medicine Residency, a local program made up of doctors and those on their way to becoming doctors, according to Dr. Yang Cao.
The Family Care Clinic at 315 E. 13th St. is the headquarters where people can bring used needles and exchange them for new ones. The clinic will make sure the used needles are properly discarded.
The program is funded through a grant from the American Academy of Family Physicians, Cao said.
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About 8 percent of new HIV cases come from shared needles and users are twice as likely to be unaware that they have HIV, according to numbers from Cao. Hepatitis C is also a commonly transferred disease.
At 2.7 percent, Merced has a higher number of people who have admitted to using than the national average of 1.7 percent, according to a Mercy Medical Center study, she said. The closest needle exchange program to Merced is in Fresno.
Patients involved in the needle exchange will also have access to screenings for disease and to have any disease monitored, Cao said.
Needle-exchange programs have shown some success. When Baltimore’s program launched more than 20 years ago, 63 percent of those with HIV were IV drug users. By 2014, the only 7 percent were IV drug users, contributing to one of the nation’s largest drops in new HIV cases, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The Merced doctors also said giving away 50-cent needles is preferable to paying what could be as much as $618,900 to care for someone with HIV for life.
Not everyone praises the programs. After an increase in the use of needle exchanges in a Multnomah County, Ore., workers cleaned up nearly double the number of needles improperly discarded on the street, according to a Portland Tribune report.
Improperly discarded needles can be can be a threat to people and children in the parks. And, city staffers said, police are wary of interacting with people carrying needles.
City Manager Steve Carrigan said he has high hopes that the two-year program will prove it’s worth continuing.
“We do have a problem with needles in our parks and our playground and our public restrooms,” he said. “They get flushed down our toilets and clog our sewer lines.”