Liz Whynott of Tapestry explains some of the services that will be provided through the needle exchange program.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Tapestry Health will open a needle exchange in the city at the beginning of February.
The nonprofit health agency was given approval on Monday night by the Redevelopment Authority to operate out of 6 West Main St., a building owned by the city and formerly used by the School Department. It received approval from the Board of Health in June.
Tapestry already runs needle exchanges in Northampton and Holyoke and is in the process of opening one each in Pittsfield and Greenfield through the state Department of Public Health.
Liz Whynott, director of Tapestry's Syringe Access Program, said the office hoped to open by Feb. 1 with three full-time staff, one of whom will be the manager, under her oversight. It is expected to run Monday through Friday.
"We provide comprehensive services and our main population that we target are opioid users, mainly people that inject drugs," she said. "We want to be as low a threshold as possible. ... syringe access programs are very successful in accessing this population."
The program had initially considered operating on Main Street near the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition office's with Josh Bressette Commit To Save A Life but the city offered the use of the currently vacant building for now. Mayor Richard Alcombright, a member of NBCC's heroin working group and the Massachusetts Municipal Association's Opiate Abuse Task Force, has been strongly supportive of efforts to address substance abuse in the city.
The walk-in clinic will be free and confidential and will offer Narcan training and availability, screenings for HIV, Hepatitis C, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, and substance abuse counseling.
"We do a lot of referrals, referrals to treatment primarily, but also we do things related to health care such as if a test comes back positive," Whynott said.
Tapestry runs a reproductive health program at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and will refer as needed with that program. Whynott, who was accompanied by NBCC Director of Prevention and Wellness Wendy Penner, also said the program has "good relationship with all of the substance abuse treatment programs."
The opioid epidemic has taken its toll in the area with 147 deaths between 2000 and 2015, more than half since 2012. The rates of Hepatitis C, a contagious liver disease that can be spread by sharing needles, is "staggeringly high" Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative Coordinator Jennifer Kimball told the Pittsfield Board of Health in August.
Kimball at the time said about 150 new cases had been reported but fewer than half of those infected by Hepatitis C knew they had it.
Needle exchange programs are one solution to preventing the reuse of needles and bringing users into contact with services that can aid them in kicking their addiction.
Whynott said the program would likely only see a few hundred people in its first year "because it takes awhile to access the population."
The closest example to North Adams would be the Northampton program that sees about 900 unique people a year, or about 20 or 30 a month, she said, which would be more in line with program's second year here.
"This is a safe syringe disposal program that will be open to the whole community. Anybody will be able to drop off their syringes for no charge," she said. If others, like diabetics, have need of sharps, "we make sure nobody goes without syringes if they need them."
The Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved the site.
"I'm glad you're here," said authority member Kyle Hanlon. "Unfortunately, we do have a real need for your services."
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