NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Only one person entered Tapestry's new syringe access program on West Main Street during its first month in February.
Then about 40 people came in during March.
"I think once word of mouth started to spread and people knew we were open, every single day for the last three weeks we've had at least two new people come in," said Sarah Dejesus, a clinical medical assistant in the new office.
The growing numbers point to the need for the program, the only one of its kind in the county.
"It is sad in a way that there is such a need for us but I'm glad that we can be here for people," Dejesus said. "Everybody who comes through the door is like, 'I'm so thankful you guys are here ... It's such a valuable service.'"
The office is holding an open house for the community from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday to answer questions and show how the program works.
The syringe access program was approved by the Board of Health last year and opened at 6 West Main St. in a building provided by the city that formerly housed education staff.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, a member of the local 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.
"We're just thrilled for Tapestry to be in the community providing the services for a needle exchange and other types of services for folks who struggle with substance abuse disorders and their families," he said. "This is a good resource for those folks."
He credited the Board of Health for helping move items with some expediency, like the syringe program and the methadone clinic, and raising the tobacco sales age to 21. The Planning Board signed off in December.
"It's great, it's good to have these folks here and the city is very happy we're able to accommodate them in this building."
Dejesus said the community as a whole has been very welcoming and that the mayor frequently stops in to see if they need anything.
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.
The concept, supported and funded by DPH, is to reduce harm by providing syringes and injection needs to prevent larger-scale public health issues, like the spread of infectious diseases such as Hepatitus C and HIV.
"There are a lot of programs for prevention, there's a lot of treatment programs, but the people that are actively using don't fit on either side and the still need care," Dejesus said.
She likens it to driving — a driver may be speeding or distracted by texting or eating or smoking — but if he or she puts on a seat belt, at least it's a start to reduce harm.
"It's just something people are going to do ... if we can provide the accommodations to do it safer ...," she said. "In everyday life, we all can make better choices in one way or another."
The concept, supported and funded by the DPH, is to reduce harm by providing syringes and injection needs to prevent larger-scale public health issues, like the spread of infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV.
Dejesus and co-worker Gabby Williamson, a licensed practical nurse, also provide basic wound care and can answer health questions for substance abusers who may hesitant to seek help for elsewhere.
The clinic is funded by DPH but there may be minimal co-pays for services such as screenings for those with commercial insurance.
"That would be the co-pay charge. But nine times out of 10, there's no charge for any of the services," said Dejesus, who began working with substance abusers a couple years ago after a decade as a reproductive health counselor for Tapestry in Pittsfield.
Williamson, who's been involved in addiction nursing at several different treatment facilities, said a big part of their work is instilling trust in a vulnerable population that can lead them to recovery.
"Your hope is that they come in every day, five-six-seven days, and maybe on the 10th day they're like, 'I don't want to do this anymore can you help me find somewhere to go?" she said. "You build that relationship and that trust ... the first time they come in they're shy, after that, they'll tell you everything."
The clinic is entirely walk-in and people can come in as many times a day as they need. It's a safe space, said Dejesus, and nonjudgmental. It's open Monday through Friday from 8 to 4 and will fill a third full-time position.
It's also casual — no suits, no uniforms.
"It's so they don't see someone as authoritative," Williamson said. "It's what works and what gets them to open up."
Once they do, the office can help set them up with a program, find transportation and schedule an intake.
"People who access a syringe program, they're five times more likely to seek treatment than people who don't have access to a program like this," Dejesus said. "It definitely will make things better as far as getting people into treatment but it's building that trust in people."
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