The area’s first syringe exchange program lost its main source of funding last week, even as it continues to reach more people than anticipated.
The program, run by the Keene Serenity Center, distributes clean syringes to people who use drugs and safe-disposal kits in exchange for used needles, which are later disposed of through an incineration service, said Jocelyn Goldblatt, the center’s executive director.
This is the second year syringe exchange programs have been allowed in the state, intended to help combat the spread of diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, as well as build regular contact and trust with people using drugs.
Keene’s program was funded by a $7,500 grant from AIDS United, a national organization that promotes syringe-exchange services and other strategies to reduce the spread of HIV.
But Goldblatt was told last week the endowment that funds this grant has run dry, and won’t be issued this year as planned.
The state law that legalized syringe services in 2017, due to an increase in infectious diseases in the midst of the nation’s opioid epidemic, stipulates that they must be self-funded.
AIDS United cannot comment on the status of grants to specific organizations, according to an email Wednesday from Syringe Access Funds Program Manager Zachary Ford.
The program has received a donation from the North American Syringe Exchange Network, doubling its supply of syringes and safe-disposal kits. This should last about three months, Goldblatt added.
Goldblatt said the program is doing well.
As of November, 271 people had received clean needles through the program since its start in June, according to data provided by the Serenity Center.
“We had originally anticipated that we would be serving 200 by the end of this year, and in some ways that’s wonderful and in other ways that is disheartening to know that many people need those services,” Goldblatt said.
A total of 1,672 clean syringes were distributed and 1,522 dirty ones were collected — a 91 percent return rate. Goldblatt said this return rate is high compared to the state’s four other programs.
Keene’s program is giving out fewer needles than bigger programs, such as the Seacoast’s Hand Up Health Services, which distributed more than 250,000 clean syringes in the last fiscal cycle, which ended June 30, and had a return rate of 71 percent, according to data provided by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.
But Manchester’s program, Queen City Exchange, had delivered only a few thousand more needles than Keene and has a return rate of 35 percent during the past fiscal year.
The Claremont Exchange, run by the HIV/HCV Resource Center and located at Valley Region Hospital, distributed 2,660 clean syringes and has a return rate of 15 percent.
Southern N.H. HIV/AIDS Task Force, based in Nashua, issued 52,200 needles in that same time period and had a 56 percent return rate.
“One of the main concerns [when we started] is that there would be more syringes on the streets and I’ve seen the numbers for other programs across the state and ... we are actually surpassing that,” Goldblatt said.
In addition to the needle exchanges, 207 service referrals stemmed from the program — 161 for substance abuse treatment, 31 for HIV or hepatitis C counseling and testing, five for health care and 10 for other resources, such as shelters.
The program is being administered in three homeless encampments in Keene, as part of the Serenity Center’s regular outreach, because people with substance-use disorders are more likely to experience homelessness.
No syringes are exchanged at the center’s building at 34 Mechanic St., Goldblatt noted.
Each kit provided through the exchange program includes 10 syringes, one strip to test drugs for the presence of fentanyl, 10 alcohol prep pads, bandages, two tourniquet bands, one syringe disposal box and other items to reduce the risk of disease or infection.
Narcan, which helps reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, can also be requested.
Elizabeth Atwood, project manager at Harbor Homes in Nashua, which oversees the Keene Serenity Center, said the center's board of directors plans on continuing to expand the program.
"They want the program to grow," she said.
The Serenity Center, at 34 Mechanic St., is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To request a syringe kit or more information on the syringe-exchange program, call Outreach Coordinator Jason Garner at 903-4049. For other inquiries, call the center’s main line at 283-5015.
This article has been changed to correct information about the syringe program's future, including its potential expansion and to update the name of Claremont's program.