Saturday's Training Seminar is a Major Leap Forward for Syringe Exchange Advocates in Bexar County

click to enlarge Syringe Services Training on July 21 will teach the basics of running a needle exchange program. - BY MEGAN RODRIGUEZ
By Megan Rodriguez
Syringe Services Training on July 21 will teach the basics of running a needle exchange program.
A new training program on Saturday, July 21, will help groups engaged in the decade-long struggle to introduce needle exchanges to Bexar County begin hitting the streets to help addicts.

From 9 a.m. to noon at the Sinkin Eco Centro Building, trainers from the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative (TONI) will teach attendees how to create programs that give IV drug users access to free, clean needles to reduce the spread of disease. The Syringe Services Training session follows May's Syringe Services Program Summit, which discussed the legality and benefits of needle exchanges.

Saturday's event is expected to bring together groups that worked "underground" needle exchanges with those looking to start new programs, said Sean Greene, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (SAMHD) special projects manager.

“We will cover putting together an outreach team,” Greene said. “The emphasis of course is on how to keep people healthy and identifying areas that would be ideal to set up syringe services programs.”

The training also will share information about the wide variety of programs people can start, said TONI cofounder Charles Thibodeaux.

“A lot of times we talk about syringe service, people picture someone standing out and giving out needles to drug addicts,” Thibodeaux said. “That is obviously a part of it, but it is a small part. Syringe service programs are known to help link people to drug treatment.”

While there is currently no public funding for syringe exchange programs, SAMHD Director Colleen Bridger said the city’s role in convening many groups, publicizing their existence and helping them overcome hurdles can be better than the city or county operating a single syringe exchange program.

“Whenever we as a community can have various partners come together to address a public health issue, that is the best case scenrio,” Bridger said. “I think it will be incredibly effective, as long as we do a good job of sharing information. Then those providers of syringe services programs will have everything they need to be highly successful."

In 2008, then-District Attorney Susan Reed effectively shut down the Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition's exchange program, the city's first such above-ground needle exchange.

"I am hoping that this renewal of interest and the training this coming Saturday provides a new group of people that will be trained and capable of volunteering in our outreach activities,” said Curt Harrell, chairman of the Harm Reduction Coalition. “I'm hoping it will provide good resources for us and any other agency in Bexar County that is hoping to put syringe exchange back on the active track.”

Rev. Joe Barber of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church said he's attending to learn how to bring a syringe exchange to his church.

"Community health should be a vital part of a faith agenda," Barber said. "I'm hoping this will stir up some partnerships between the church and community health so we can deal with some big issues in their areas."

The training also will allow organizations to discuss whether they want to run exchange programs or offer other services such as safe disposal sites, SAMHD's Greene said.

“We hope people will come away knowing there is a community of interest around addressing the problem locally and that there are resources across the county that they can draw upon and utilize going forward,” Greene said.

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