Needle exchange program continues to grow

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin's LifePoint Needle Exchange Program provides clean supplies to injection drug users in order to prevent the spread of infection.

But the number of needles being given out in the La Crosse area continues to grow.

The La Crosse office of the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin is on track to give drug users more needles in 2016 than ever before.

The number has grown each year, and this year is no exception.

In 2015, the program gave more than 218,000 needles.

In the first five months of this year alone, more than 114,000 needles have been distributed.

The Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin says this increase is being seen across the state, but they say studies show the program does not lead to greater drug use.

"They say without a doubt that it does not encourage drug use, it does not increase crime rates in the communities where the exchanges take place, and it has the opposite effect of needle stick injuries in the community," said Scott Stokes, Director of Prevention Services for the Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin.

The La Crosse Heroin and Illicit Drug Task Force expects those high numbers every year.

"Our task force was not really shocked by the numbers because we're aware of that and we support the program, but we want the general community to really understand the general purpose of the needle exchange program as a harm reduction strategy," said Al Bliss, Coordinator of the Heroin and Illicit Drug Task Force.

The task force plans to focus their efforts on other areas, such as making Narcan, an opiate antidote, more readily available, and promoting the safe disposal of prescription drugs.

The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin also provides Narcan and training on how to use it.

The La Crosse office reports that that training has been put to use in the area 42 times in the first five months of this year.

The Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin's Eau Claire office reports that it also expects to give more needles this year.

In 2015, it distributed 245,808 needles, and in the first five months of this year, it has given 137,829.

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