Safe syringe program in Broome County

By Caroline Goggin

August 21, 2014 Updated Aug 22, 2014 at 11:23 AM EDT

Johnson City, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The Syringe Exchange Programs in both Johnson City and Ithaca have opened doors to community members for the past six years.

Inside, the program offers what it calls a "safe space" for people to obtain sterile syringes.

"Most of the individuals who access services here are injection drug users," said Director of Programs for the Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP) Michelle McElroy. "We do also serve some diabetics who can't afford supplies if their insurance doesn't cover enough syringes for the doses that they need. We also act as a community sharps disposal site, so we will take sharps from anyone in the community in order to make sure they are disposed of properly."

STAP officials educate visitors about proper safety methods, offer them hygiene products and provide them with a brand new syringe of their choice, as to reduce the level of bacteria causing disease.

"New York State has syringe exchange programs, which are reducing the number of people that are infected through injection drug use," said Executive Director of STAP John Barry.

In 2012, about 350,000 syringes were distributed at the Broome County and Tompkins County sites.

Just one year later, the distribution number jumped to about 550,000.

These high numbers may lead people to wonder whether this idea of spreading safety is also causing further drug abuse?

"The program is structured in such a way as to ensure people can be safe and healthy until the time that they are ready to be clean and sober," added McElroy. "What we want is people to live long enough, and be disease-free long enough, so that when they want to go into treatment, they will still be around to do that."

In 2013, the program served 1,500 unique individuals. Of that number, 750 were new to the service.