Federal funds are now being made available to support needle exchange programs in New Hampshire as the state continues to battle the growing opioid epidemic.
Wendy LeBlanc helped launch the Syringe Service Alliance of the Nashua Area in February. It allows drug users access “fit packs” complete with 10 sterile needles, a tourniquet, sanitizing wipes, a cooker, and even Narcan kits, no questions asked.
“They’re very grateful, they’re appreciative, they’re thankful,” LeBlanc said.
It’s funded through grants and run by volunteers, but now New Hampshire has gotten approval to use federal funds to support programs like this.
“I can’t tell you how excited and motivated I am again to go to work in the morning and know I am making a difference,” LeBlanc said.
The state petitioned the CDC by using some alarming statistics like a nearly 200-percent increase in overdose deaths from 2012 to 2016 and a spike in hepatitis C and HIV infections related to needle sharing.
“Of course, we all wish no one was injecting drugs, but the reality is they are, and this is a way to help them do so more safely,” LeBlanc said.
Heather Haines was addicted to heroin for five years. She’s convinced if she had access to one of these “fit packs” back then, she could’ve avoided the lifelong impacts of using contaminated needles.
“Quite a few of us just didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” Haines said.
She is now one of the volunteers who distributes the syringes to those in need.
“I’ve found my purpose,” Haines said. “I just love seeing that light come on in someone else’s face when I show that same love that was given to me.”
She says the program isn’t just about clean needles, and the federal funding is so much more than money.
“That’s what they’re showing, that they care about every human being, we care about every life,” Haines said.
Some people argue that syringe service programs encourage drug use, but health officials say there are no statistics to support that.