Mandan’s syringe exchange program is growing faster than anticipated, enrolling 107 people since opening in January.
The Good Neighbor Project at Custer Health provides free sterile syringes and education to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. Jodie Fetsch, director of nursing, said the program’s initial goal was to enroll 25 people in the first year.
“We knew there was an IV drug use problem in Bismarck-Mandan, but I don’t think we knew the extent,” Fetsch said.
The program, the first to open in North Dakota, has expanded its hours and expects to dedicate additional nursing staff.
Participants have reported using methamphetamine, heroin, prescription pain medications not as prescribed, alcohol, cocaine and methadone and Suboxone not as prescribed. The program sees more meth use than opioid addiction, Fetsch said.
Clients can receive as many as 20 syringes once a week if they follow the rules of the program, which includes returning used syringes. The program changed its protocol in July to increase the number of dirty syringes that are collected, she said.
Custer Health has distributed more than 7,800 syringes so far and collected about 5,700 syringes, Fetsch said.
Participants meet with a nurse each time and receive education on harm reduction, such as safe injection practices and preventing an overdose. Nurses provide referrals for substance abuse treatment, medical services and other assistance.
“It has been wonderful to see people come in and want to stay healthy,” Fetsch said. “We’re seeing some people entering substance abuse treatment.”
Custer Health cannot use state or federal funding to buy syringes or other supplies that would be used for injecting. With the program is growing quickly, the Good Neighbor Project relies on grant funding and donations to pay for syringes and supplies.
“It’s a struggle to get the funding for the injecting supplies,” Fetsch said.
The Good Neighbor Project has served people from Burleigh, Morton, Sioux, Barnes and McLean counties. Clients are tested for HIV and Hepatitis C when they enroll and every six months.
The North Dakota Department of Health authorizes syringe exchange programs, which were approved during the 2017 legislative session. Fargo Cass Public Health also operates a program.
The Department of Health is reviewing an application from another agency and is in discussions with other communities that have expressed interest, said Lindsey VanderBusch, a program manager involved with disease prevention.
“Anything we can do to try to reduce the number of needles people are reusing or sharing with others just reduces the risk of HIV or Hepatitis C transmission,” VanderBusch said.