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Advocates say needle exchange about more than free needles

Advocates say needle exchange about more than free needles

SAN ANTONIO - Local health leaders are now crafting an official needle exchange program to help addicts.

Fox San Antonio hit the streets to find out why advocates believe free syringes can save lives.

We meet at the corner of Hamilton and Vera Cruz on the city's west side.

"We were standing over here by the fence line," says an advocate who goes by Moe.

Ten years ago, she ran a grassroots needle exchange.

"There were about 15 to 20 individuals," Moe recalls.

She and her team soon learned Bexar County no longer considered the practice legal.

"This is the area where we were cited," Moe says.

A decade later, the legal tables have turned once again, and local health leaders are now recognizing what Moe has long known.

"It's more than just a syringe," she says.

She's seen firsthand how drug abuse hurts families.

"The long term effect is quite traumatic," Moe says. "You have children. You have CPS cases. You have methadone babies."

She's also seen it feed the sex trade.

"If you have an individual that has to support a habit, the biggest and the most profitable commodity is sex," Moe says.

And she's seen how some addicts buy used needles from diabetics.

"A person who is physically addicted to a drug - they're going to go through whatever means to be able to do it," Moe says. "And it hurts the community as a whole when we don't help."

That's why Metro Health is building the city's official needle exchange.

"People are more likely to seek treatment when they have been connected through a syringe services program," says Sean Greene from Metro Health.

Back in May, a community summit got the conversation started. Then in June, Metro Health met with groups interested in participating.

"We had eleven organizations represented," Greene says. "Faith-based, community-based organizations."

Now health leaders are encouraging needle exchanges that were once forced underground to come into the light.

"Now is a wonderful time to come to the table to help craft what syringe services in San Antonio and Bexar County would look like," Greene says.

He says it's part of a larger effort to address our opioid crisis. By this fall, Metro Health will publish a map of needle exchanges and drug disposal sites.

"So we have a comprehensive picture of how folks can safely dispose of their opioids on the one hand and their used needles on the other, and where they might be able to seek treatment services," Greene says.

"I think it's a good approach. It's a great place to start," Moe says.

She hopes part of the process includes examining the interactions between police and people who need clean needles.

"It will develop rapport in the community," Moe says. "It will improve the trust of these community-led organizations to get more involved in these institutionalized approaches."

By EMILY BAUCUM

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