At Tufts University School of Medicine, Professor Thomas Stopka says health professionals were startled when a spike in HIV cases turned up in Lowell, Massachusetts.
"Until 2017, we'd seen relatively stable numbers of cases among people who inject drugs," said Dr. Stopka. "In 2017 in Lowell, that changed."
Official numbers will be out this summer, but local community health workers in Lowell believe there may have been 24 new HIV cases associated with people who inject drugs in 2017.
There were just six cases in the prior three years.
Stopka, who studies how one epidemic can lead to another, says the presence of fentanyl in the Merrimack Valley could be a factor for the increase as addicts tend to use more because it's so powerful.
"If they're injecting more frequently, there's increased chance for syringe sharing," said Dr. Stopka.
Kerran Vigroux, the director of Lowell Health and Human Services, says a needle exchange twice a week at Life Connections Center, is one way the city is fighting the problem.
"People can bring in used needles and get clean needles," said Vigroux. "Some people worry that it's promoting drug use. It really isn't, it's about interrupting that disease transmission."
Education is another key element in the battle to keep people safer.
"Trying to get the message out about the risks and how to eliminate risks or reduce their risks," said Vigroux.
The needle exchange at Life Connections runs Mondays and Wednesdays from 12-2 p.m.