Canton is holding its first needle exchange later this month. The program lets people who use injected drugs swap their used needles for clean ones.
Project SWAP (Stark-Wide Approach to Prevention) was created in response to a rise in hepatitis C cases in the area, and a HIV outbreak two years ago among drug users in neighboring Indiana.
The primary goal of the program is to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by getting contaminated needles off the streets. It also gives referrals to treatment and counseling services.
Canton Board of Health Nursing Director Diane Thompson says people who show up without a used needle can still participate, but in a limited way.
“We may distribute syringes to individuals who don’t have [them], but we would only do that as a one-time courtesy," Thompson says.
Thompson says studies of needle-exchange programs indicate they do not increase drug use in communities they serve.
“Studies that have been done on this program indicate that there are more positive outcomes," she says. "This is an evidence-based program, it is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it’s been proven that it does not encourage drug use.”
The Canton Board of Health says it's not using public funds to purchase syringes, but is instead relying on donations of clean needle kits from area organizations.
Needle exchanges will be held weekly at the Canton Health Department starting on Friday, June 23.