SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The last thing many people may think would help someone battling drug addiction would be providing them access to free syringes.
But that’s exactly what some local and state health officials have in mind who discussed the topic.
What you’re seeing is a mock-up of what a syringe service program might look like at The Wright Center for Community Health. 40 states nationally have state-sponsored syringe services programs but Pennsylvania isn’t one of them.
“We need to give local service providers such as The Wright Center here the ability to establish these services and the ability to gain access to federal funds,” stated Dr. Denise Johnson, Acting Secretary of the PA Department of Health.
Advocates such as The Wright Center’s Scott Constantini say having a program to distribute new, clean needles to people battling substance use disorder would help curb the spread of serious infectious diseases.
“We want to reduce and eliminate new cases of HIV and Hepatitis C,” said Scott Constantini, Associate VP of Primary & Recovery Services Integration of The Wright Center for Community Health.
But proponents claim these programs accomplish even more than that.
Officials at The Wright Center say by having a syringe service program, would also give them an opportunity to help those battling substance use disorder get on the right path
“You know, we look at it as an encounter. It’s a great way to engage individuals and get them the help they need,” explained Steve Ross, Special Assistant at the PA Department Of Drug And Alcohol Programs.
For Northeastern Pennsylvania’s largest city, providing a syringe service program has the potential to help people who aren’t directly exposed to substance use disorder.
“If somebody calls and says there’s a syringe at a park, that’s evidence of so many problems we have to fix. We know that these syringe programs work,” stated Mayor Paige Cognetti.
The CDC says individuals who participate in syringe service programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment. Advocates say for Pennsylvania, the programs are long overdue.
“I think it would be a huge impact. A huge impact” said Constantini.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh operate syringe service programs that operate independently from the state.
State sponsorship would make Pennsylvania eligible for federal funding.