Latah Recovery Center’s program to exchange syringes, launched almost three months ago, has been used sparingly.

Darrell Keim, director of the recovery center, said two people have visited the center to do six exchanges of syringes since the program started in May. The limited use was not a surprise to Keim, who said North Idaho AIDS Coalition officials in Coeur d’Alene told him their program took about three months before anyone utilized the service.

Keim said he expects the number of people using the syringe exchange program to increase.

“One thing I’ve learned is that getting a steady supply of safe syringes is very difficult for an IV drug user,” Keim said. “Why would they not use our program? It’s anonymous and it could save their life.”

The recovery center board in April approved partnering with the North Idaho AIDS Coalition to implement the program to include a safe syringe exchange. The syringe exchange allows drug users to exchange used syringes for clean ones and engages addicts to seek recovery resources at the center.

Moscow Police Department Chief James Fry said some drug users are going to use syringes, but the syringe exchange program will hopefully keep diseases like HIV and hepatitis C at bay.

“It’s just one more safety measure to try to keep people healthy and get them into recovery to get them some help,” Fry said.

Before the program was implemented in April, proponents said syringe exchange programs protect drug users from the diseases Fry mentioned and members of the community by reducing the number of used needles in public places.

A few recovering addicts at April’s recovery center board meeting expressed concern that the program would tempt them into using again because they would consider bringing used syringes into the recovery center to exchange or they could see addicts they previously used drugs with enter the building to exchange needles.

Keim said Wednesday that some groups in town oppose the program but he has received no recent complaints about it.

Those who participate in the syringe exchange program are encouraged to get tested for HIV and hepatitis C at the recovery center. Those tests are offered twice a month and are administered by North Idaho AIDS Coalition staff. Keim said 12 people have taken the tests.

Naloxone, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose, and condoms are also available as part of the recovery center’s program.

Keim said there have been four cases since May in which naloxone provided by the recovery center was used in opioid overdose cases. The center has distributed about 500 condoms.

Keim said the center’s sterile needles and naloxone are stored in a locked, private area of the building that only staff can access.

Although it is an exchange program, Keim said a person does not need to bring in used syringes for clean ones the first time that person uses the program. He said they might not know the rules of the exchange program and the center wants low barriers to entry.

The exchange program is available 4-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays or by appointment. Free HIV and hepatitis C testing is available twice a month. Visit latahrecoverycenter.org for the testing schedule and for other information.

Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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