Official: Needle exchange program working

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle The health department dispenses syringes, cotton filters, one-hit kits, sharps containers, alcohol pads and sterile water as part of its Harm Reduction program.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Sandra Fentell hands out about 1,000 syringes to Clovis drug users each Thursday. A disease prevention specialist with the health department, she runs the Harm Reduction program.

The program’s goal is to prevent the spread of disease among intravenous drug users and to get dirty needles off the streets, Fentell said.

“We’re not trying to support their drug habit or anything, far from that,” she said.

“I think the public would be happy to know these needles aren’t just laying around in parks. That’s pretty much where we’re coming from.”

Fentell said the staff uses the exchange program as an opportunity to test users for diseases such as Hepatitis B and C, HIV and other communicable diseases.

They also educate the more than 25 registered users about a multitude of health issues and guide addicts to resources when they are ready to quit.

The program has been in Clovis around 10 years.

Users register and are given a participant card to carry.

They bring in used needles in a disposal container and get new ones. It’s a one-for-one exchange.

Methamphetamine is the reported drug of choice, and cocaine is second, Fentell said. Many report shooting up drugs four times a day or more.

Curry County Adult Detention Center Administrator Leslie Johnson supports the program.

“I think it is (good) personally. If people are addicted to drugs and they’re going to be intravenous users, I think we have to face reality,” Johnson said.

“I have an unhealthy population that lives in this jail and many of them are drug users.”

Fentell will soon be going into the jail to educate inmates about health and resources they can tap when released.
Randy Gomez, director of Beacon of Light Discipleship recovery program, said he understands the damage a dirty needle can do.

“My brother used dirty needles and it cost him his life.” His sibling, 50, contracted Hepatitis C through intravenous drug use.

“It could have possibly helped him if he had (access to clean needles),” he said. “It might have saved his life.”