Fall 2015

Needle Drops

Sterile syringe program cuts risk of disease in Worcester

A public library in Worcester, Massachusetts, has become notorious lately as the site of habitual and illegal drug use, leading to 10 reported overdoses in the past year, according to a June report in Worcester Magazine. In an effort to reduce the risk of communicable disease such as hepatitis C and HIV, speakers at a recent public hearing in the city argued for putting needle disposal boxes in the library bathrooms.

Brian Bickford, director of homeless services at a local group called Community Healthlink, said that although his organization puts its emphasis on treatment, the boxes would help improve the overall quality of health.

Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus Jr., had moved to implement the drop-off boxes, but wanted to be sure that such a move did not send a message condoning drug use.

Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine Tom Stopka, an epidemiologist, fully supports the city manager’s initiative. He has done data mapping for hepatitis C and HIV across the state and says Worcester is a “hotspot” for both diseases. “Sterile syringe programs, syringe discard programs, have been shown in scores of studies to be effective in reaching folks who are in need of public health services to decrease the risk of transmission of disease,” he says.

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