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Clean needle exchange program in Grand Rapids is proving successful

Creative Commons

Clean Works Needle Exchange began ten years ago. At the time it was very controversial for Grand Rapids city commissioners to adopt local laws that would give drug users access to clean syringes.

Tami VandenBerg leads the non-profit that runs the Clean Works Needle Exchange. She says they provide clean needles for about 600 people a year.

“They’re at risk of all kinds of health issues and most people either significantly reduce or stop using drugs all together at some point. So it really benefits all of us to help them stay as healthy as they possibly can while they’re using excessively.”

 When the exchange started in 2001, around 1 in 4 people in Grand Rapids who regularly injected drugs were infected with HIV or AIDS. Now the rate is less than 1 in 10.

VandenBerg says getting infection rates down protects the entire community – even those who don’t use drugs.

“There are other cities that contact us ‘you know how do we do this?’ and the fact that we’ve got our number of HIV/AIDS down to the level we have is something to be extremely proud of.”

Local governments have to draft laws to allow clean needle exchange programs. Detroit’s is the oldest in Michigan. Ypsilanti and Flint have also approved exchanges in their cities.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.