Why Chattanooga Cares has started a needle exchange

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CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – Legislation passed last year in Tennessee allows needle exchanges to help prevent the spread of diseases.

Chattanooga Cares is a local group treating people from 11 counties in southeast Tennessee.

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The name of this needle exchange program is STEPTN, or Syringe Training Education Program of Tennessee. The goal is to reduce the number of new infections due to the sharing of needles.

Cory Howard with Chattanooga Cares says “Surprisingly, we’ve had the program running for over three weeks now, we’ve seen probably over twenty people and received about 300 needles so far, which is kind of amazing considering how short the program’s been in existence.”

The program is set up to develop relationships with the people in the exchange, and then refer them to mental health and substance abuse agencies.

CEO Shannon Stephenson says the program encourages people to get treatment.

“The rates of actual admission into behavioral health or treatment is five times more likely through this program, it also reduces the spread of infections, from re-using needles, or sharing needles.”

Stephenson says they’re also trying to stop the opioid crisis from becoming even larger in our community.

Howard adds “With the opioid crisis, it is increasing the transmission of HIV and Hep C and what a lot of people don’t know is Hep C actually kills more people than HIV and diabetes combined. It used to be with just baby boomers, cause back in the day the blood supply was contaminated with Hep C and people didn’t know about it, but now the new crisis is with people who inject drugs which is usually a younger group, usually in their twenties.”

Drug manufacturers are providing free treatment for Hepatitis C after a client has been drug free for at least a month.

The hope is that the program will be successful enough that it will not even be needed eventually.