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Drop-In Center’s needle exchange program sees increase in participants

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 6:03 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The second Drop-In Center location in Roanoke has only been open eight months, which is nearly the same length of time as the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a correlation that’s brought in many new participants.

“Actually the past few months we’ve seen an increase. We have 64 enrolled. We see them, twice a week, on our mobile unit, so the uptick is what we’ve been hoping for," said Lisa Via, the comprehensive harm reduction coordinator for the Drop-In Center.

“In the beginning we would have liked to have 150 participants by the end of the year. Technically we could have had that, if not for COVID, for the first couple of months we only had four participants, so our numbers have been amazing.”

At the barebones, the program exchanges clean needles for used needles, disposing of them as bio-hazardous waste.

It’s an option for anyone who relies on syringes, one of its main goals is reducing another number that has increased this year: overdoses.

“The numbers from last year to this year have almost tripled," said Via, saying that number is just for Roanoke.

According to Dr. Robert Trestman, the chair of the Department of Psychiatry for Carilion Clinic, the Valley is focused on treatment above all, citing that places like the Drop-in Center exist for harm reduction, and that for years, that wasn’t an option.

“We now have over 500 patients in active opioid treatment, and we fully expect those numbers to grow significantly," said Trestman.

But now that it is, the Drop-In Center hopes to see the steady increase continue, hopeful to still even get to 150, or more, especially as the pandemic continues.

“Everyone deserves to live, everyone deserves respect, and to have people that are willing to help them," said Via.

Another program the Drop-In Center offers is drive-thru and walk-thru Revive training, and free Narcan. The next event is scheduled for October 29 from 3-5 p.m. at the Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare-Burrell Center.

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