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Nevada's Only Syringe Exchange Program Curbs Infectious Diseases

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Syringe exchange programs across the country are intended to curb the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis. There’s only one program in Nevada and Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray checks in to see what they’re learning.

Change Point is Nevada’s first legal syringe exchange program which was set up two years ago. It’s based at the community health center Northern Nevada HOPES in downtown Reno.

Robert Harding is with HOPES and says participation in the syringe program is anonymous.

“By law, we’re not allowed to collect identifying information from any of our clients," Harding says. "And even if we had any records, none of those records of those records are legally allowed to be sequestered by courts or used in evidence.”

The possession of non-prescription syringes used to be illegal. But in 2013 Nevada lawmakers passed a syringe access bill to decriminalize them. It also made way for the state’s first needle exchange program, which Harding says helps prevent infectious disease transmission.

“Every time that we’re handing out a syringe, it’s keeping them from using a dirty syringe that they might have used moments before and so we’re eliminating that potential for Hep C or HIV transmission," Harding says. "I can tell you that we have seen a big decrease in the number of individuals with wounds and abcesses that are related to bacteria that causes potential for other serious infections.”

Harding says in a recent six-month period, the program served more than two thousand clients, handing-out nearly half-a-million hypodermic needles. About 97 percent of used syringe have been returned for safe disposal.