Across the street from Plattsburgh State’s Ausable Hall, at 202 Cornelia St., there is a small building with a sign with “Mind Tuning,” printed on it with a list of various health offices the building has to offer. However, one service inside the building is not listed on the sign — the Alliance for Positive Health.
The Alliance offers several services to its patients, including HIV and STI testing and care management for chronic diseases, such as diabetes and asthma. It also provides naloxone — commonly known by its brand name, Narcan — training to anyone over the age of 16 to prevent opioid overdose.
The center also provides a service that few are aware of: the Syringe Exchange Program.
The program, which provides safe, clean syringes to patients on a confidential basis, began in January 2015, and the Alliance Center has enrolled 113 patients and helped in 26 opioid overdose reversals with their Narcan kits as of July 2015.
The program helps patients suffering from drug addiction or chronic illness receive clean medical supplies in order to prevent disease caused by dirty needles.
The program, founded by Plattsburgh Regional Director of the Alliance Center Diana Aguglia, was originally created to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, as well as hepatitis C.
Aguglia said there has been an increase of both hepatitis C and opioid overdoses, and the Alliance Center is looking to help “tackle the problem.”
“It is one of the very few spots close to campus that really focuses on prevention,” PSUC Alcohol and Other Drug Educator Janis Krug said of the Alliance Center.
She said that in the 2014 Core Survey, which measures drug and alcohol use and perceptions among students at PSUC, students had a low percentage of opiate use, with 1.2 percent of the students surveyed having reported using drugs in the opioid category within the last year.
“There’s a lot of normalizing that happens at the college age,” Krug said. “You see other students that are drinking or using drugs, and it kind of makes it feel like it’s OK to do.”
A patient wishing to enroll in the Syringe Exchange Program participates in the intake process, which assesses the patient’s needs based on their situation and medical standing. While the patient is not required to present their name, they must provide the substance or medication they inject and how often to ensure they are given the right-size syringe as well as correct medical supplies and treatment options.
Aside from the syringes, the center dispenses all of the necessary supplies to aid in injection, with the exception of the substance or medication itself. Patients are given access to plastic water bottles, saline and various health supplies.
The Alliance for Positive Health Harm Reduction Supervisor Taylor Gibbons said the center gives patients “hospitality kits” that contain items such as tissues, cotton swabs and other necessities “a lot of the patients do not have.”
Gibbons said patients can sometimes be hesitant to come in for help but are “always very honest and very appreciative.”
After enrolling, the patient receives a personalized identification card. Gibbons said the cards do not include personal information, but it does give the cardholder a unique ID number.
Gibbons said the center does not encourage patients to use or abuse illegal substances, and they do not allow patients to receive those substances on the premises, as that can “jeopardize the integrity of the program.”
The Syringe Exchange Program does not only provide clean syringes, but it also helps in retrieving and discarding used needles as well. Since the program began, the Alliance Center has removed 52,000 syringes off Plattsburgh streets and grounds of surrounding areas.
Aguglia said retrieval sweeps are conducted throughout the community in “high-risk” and “high-traffic” areas.
Those wishing to discard needles can safely do so at the Alliance Center. They do not need to be enrolled in the Syringe Exchange Program, and it is free of charge.
Gibbons and Aguglia said patients are more likely to seek treatment after enrolling in the program. The Alliance Center helps participants find rehabilitation facilities and assists
in referring patients to resources to recover from withdrawal symptoms and addiction.
“Their goal in general is to reduce harm, reduce rates of disease and really provide people with materials to use safely, and people who are in that program are more likely to seek treatment,” Krug said of the Alliance.
The agency provides Narcan training in an hour-long presentation that demonstrates how to identify overdose symptoms and how to administer Narcan. Those who complete the training are given a certificate as a trained overdose responder. They are also given a prescription to obtain and carry a Narcan kit.
Aguglia said Narcan can be either injected in the arm, leg or any other part of the body with a high muscle concentration, or sprayed into the nostrils.
A face shield and gloves are also included in the Narcan kit to ensure both parties are safe and avoid any contact with the substance.
Aguglia recommends those who administer Narcan call 911 immediately and keep them on the line for possible instructions or help. Once the user is breathing again, he or she should also seek medical treatment.
Aguglia and Gibbons also said they encourage the use of the Good Samaritan law. This protects anyone calling 911 for a drug- or alcohol-related issue from being prosecuted.
Aguglia said someone might be afraid to call 911 in the case of an overdose because he or she thinks there is an impending arrest for being involved with the user. She said this is not the case, as long as there is no evidence that the substance was being prepared for selling.
She said the law was established to “preserve life at all costs” and to help people feel safe in seeking medical treatment.
Aguglia and Gibbons encourage those struggling with a drug addiction or wanting more information on Narcan training to contact them at 518-563-2437.
“A good prevention program is a critical piece to the equation,” Krug said. “It’s not just about treatment. It’s not just about crime enforcement. You need good prevention efforts as well, and that’s what that program is all about.”
Email Marissa Russo at firstname.lastname@example.org