Catholic Charities began providing syringe exchange today in Albany, New York.
“I strongly believe in this. It will save lives,” said Sister Maureen Joyce, CEO of Catholic Charities.
The syringe exchange program will operate with the blessing of the bishop of the local Catholic diocese. And with the support of local police, prosecutors, and public health officials.
The Albany Times Union newspaper did a good job covering the story here.
Health officials quoted in the news article say that 50 percent of new HIV infections were linked to injection drug use in 1990. The percentage dropped to 7 percent by 2004 thanks to the implementation of syringe exchange in many parts of New York state. This will be the first syringe exchange in Albany, the state capital.
I was pleased with this story, but not entirely surprised.
When I began a syringe exchange program through my workplace (a large mental health and drug treatment agency), I experienced first hand how open people are to syringe exchange when they are given the chance to understand the program and have their questions and concerns addressed.
We too opened our syringe exchange with a letter of support from the police chief, and the mayor’s office. We also had the support of the local business association and the state department of health.
What was even more wonderful, from my perspective, was the fact that we had the active support of several churches. The Episcopal Cathedral allowed us to use their church hall as one of our syringe exchange sites. And later, the Catholic diocese rented us a building at 50 percent of fair market value.
I feel strongly that syringe exchange is ethically and morally just. And I am pleased to see communities of faith participating in this work.
I attended a syringe exchange conference not long after starting our syringe exchange program, and one of the workshops was about syringe exchange by communities of faith. I recall a minister from a black church was one of the participants, as was someone from Catholic Charities of Minneapolis, MN.
If you have any interest in syringe exchange or the work of communities of faith with people who inject, I suggest you read the article linked to above. It is a good read.