Getting the point

Program offers drug users clean syringes to battle disease

Sterile injection supplies are pictured. New Points, a syringe service program operated by the Marquette County Health Department in collaboration with Great Lakes Recovery Centers at the Upper Great Lakes Sawyer Family Health Center, aims to reduce blood borne infections in the community by offering sterile injection supplies for people who are using controlled substances intravenously. The free and confidential program runs 3 to 6 p.m. on a walk in basis at Upper Great Lakes Sawyer Family Health Center, which is located 301 Explorer St. in Gwinn.

SAWYER — New Points, a syringe service program operated by the Marquette County Health Department in collaboration with Great Lakes Recovery Centers, has now been operational for a little over a month at the Upper Great Lakes Sawyer Family Health Center.

The program aims to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C by providing sterile injection supplies for people who are using controlled substances intravenously, as well as a way to safely dispose of used injection equipment, officials said.

While the program been serving participants over the past month, there has been some confusion around the location of the program site, officials said, and they are reminding the public that the free and confidential program is located at the Upper Great Lakes Sawyer Family Health Center at K.I. Sawyer.

“Because the MCHD is operating New Points, some folks have come to the health department for services. We want to make sure everyone knows the services are actually located within the Upper Great Lakes Sawyer Family Health Center at the old K.I. Sawyer Air Base,” said Emily Pratt, program coordinator at the Marquette County Health Department.

The clinic was chosen as the pilot site for the program in Marquette County, Pratt said, as the clinic offers medical, dental and mental health care on-site, and eventually substance abuse treatment as well.

By placing the program site at a clinic, program participants have opportunities to connect with health care providers and services that can assist in their recovery.

Syringe service programs have been shown to increase the likelihood that individuals who are injecting drugs will “get into treatment or get into health care just in general,” Pratt said, noting a valuable part of the program is “opening the door to these services for folks who have often had bad experiences with healthcare settings.”

New Points is an evidence-based approach to community health that focuses on harm reduction, Pratt said, emphasizing this type of program does not increase crime or the use of IV drugs or in the communities served — rather, studies have shown these programs can have an overall beneficial impact on community health.

“In general, needle exchange programs have been shown to reduce drug use by getting those people connected to those services,” Pratt said.

Furthermore, she said, these programs have been shown to reduce new HIV and hepatitis infections by limiting injection equipment sharing; reduce overdose deaths and reduce needlestick injuries amongst local law enforcement.

This type of program is particularly important in the area because the Upper Peninsula as a region has the highest rate of hepatitis C for young adults in Michigan, officials said.

“The vast majority of our young adults with hepatitis C have acquired it through intravenous drug use and the sharing of needles. These same individuals are at very high risk of acquiring and spreading HIV,” said Dr. Terry Frankovich, Medical Director for MCHD in a press release about New Points. “(Syringe service programs) have been shown to decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis infections in the communities they serve.”

An overdose prevention program — which allows individuals to obtain naloxone in nasal spray form and receive training on how to administer it to someone who is suffering from an overdose — is now also offered through the syringe service program.

“We are supplying naloxone to our participants as well as the community, it could be someone that’s concerned about a friend or family member overdosing,” Pratt said.

While it’s still early into the program, Pratt said they hope to expand it the future and are currently assessing what the best approach and location for an additional site may be.

“We’re trying to gauge if transportation is a barrier to folks — if getting out to (the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force) base is difficult for people,” Pratt said. “Where else do we need to be, is it in Marquette, is it in Ishpeming?”

The syringe service program, which is free and confidential, is offered on walk-in basis 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays at the Upper Great Lakes Sawyer Family Health Center, located at 301 Explorer Street in Gwinn. Call 906-372-3040 or visit mqthealth.org for more information.

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