San Antonio takes first steps to stop spread of diseases in syringe summit

Summit to address opportunities in syringe exchange services in Bexar County

SAN ANTONIO – Health officials are taking the first steps in bringing a syringe exchange program to Bexar County by hosting a first-of-a-kind summit for a multiagency planning group.

The summit took place Wednesday and was designed to help local entities providing syringe exchange services -- such as pharmacies -- to understand the law and available resources.

Dr. Colleen Bridger, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, said the goal of the services is to stop the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C among drug users.

"They already have one problem: They are addicted to drugs and they are using drugs. We don’t need them to have two or three needles like having HIV or hep C," Bridger said.

The event also served as an opportunity to network and learn about options to implement syringe exchange services locally.

"A needle costs 10 cents, and the lifetime care of someone with HIV is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It just makes sense,” Bridger said. “Research shows when you have that connection, you are more likely to enter into treatment and ultimately, we want people with substance abuse disorder to kick the addiction."

According to Metro Health, the average age of people dying from hepatitis C in San Antonio is 59 years old. One in 10 new cases of HIV diagnosis in the nation is attributed to injected drugs.

According to Metro Health, 1 in 7 people living with HIV and at least 50 percent of individuals with hepatitis C do not know they are infected.

From 2007 to 2008, San Antonio had a syringe exchange program. 

"The syringe exchange is a controversial subject for some people. They think you are just helping some people continue to use, but it's the first step to helping people get better," Alyssa Dobbertin, admission director at Alpha Home, said.

The entities involved in Wednesday’s summit include Bexar County, Center for Health Care Services, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, St. Luke’s Missionary Baptist Church, Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative, University Health System, the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Nursing, University of the Incarnate Word Feik School of Pharmacy and community members with a passion for harm reduction.

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