BEXAR COUNTY, Texas - Reducing the transmission of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, preventing deadly overdoses and offering help to people throughout Bexar County who are addicted to drugs are the main goals for a slated needle exchange program that's been talked about by county officials for years.
With the highest concentration of babies born addicted to opioids out of any county in Texas, it’s clear Bexar County residents, both young and old, are heavily impacted by the national epidemic.
On Tuesday, $80,000 from the county budget was secured to fund a pilot needle exchange program.
“One of our primary goals for Bexar County Opioid Task Force is to increase access to treatment,” said T.J. Mayes, chairman of the Opioid Task Force.
Mayes said the needle exchange program would not only provide addicts with clean needles but also the overdose antidote naxolone and information about treatment. He said it's a step in the right direction.
“HIV and hepatitis C are both associated with dirty needles. They're both on the rise, and we need to address that. Intravenous drug use is a problem in our community,” Mayes said.
The money from the county budget will fund needed supplies and pay trained addiction experts to hit the streets and interact with those affected.
“It'll cost a few cents to give them the needle. It'll cost Bexar County taxpayers $250,000 if we have to treat them in a Bexar County hospital,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
The initiative introduced more than a decade ago has not been met without pushback. Wolff said former District Attorney Susan Reed opposed the idea and considered it a way to enable addicts.
The current district attorney, Joe Gonzales, stands with Mayes and county commissioners in support.
“One thing you'll find in study after study after study is that comprehensive harm reduction strategies are an effective way to get people to access treatment,” Mayes said, referring to the program.
The funds set aside for the program will be available for use come Oct. 1. Mayes said he hopes to have the program fully implemented by this fall.
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