BRATTLEBORO — A needle-exchange program is available to area residents.
"We saw a need earlier this year," said Karen Peterson, executive of Aids Project of Southern Vermont. "We quietly opened on Sept. 1."
No one is signed up yet for the free program. Although anonymous, people who join receive membership cards. Informational business cards have been printed and passed out at recent meetings with local groups.
Nov. 1 is expected to be the first day the program is operational. From then on, it will be run every first and third Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon at 15 Grove Street in Brattleboro.
At the end of 2014, Peterson said, about 185 new cases of HIV in Indiana were all traced back to injection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study of 26 states, and Windham and Essex counties in Vermont made the list of counties with the highest risk.
A total of 665 people were known to be living with HIV in Vermont on Dec. 31, 2014, according to the Vermont Department of Health. Windham County had the third highest number of residents living with the virus. At 70, the county had three less residents living with the virus than Windsor County. The data showed Chittenden County at 220 residents.
Peterson's organization also offers free condoms, HIV and Hepatitis-C testing and information, health and addiction referrals, and safer sex information.
Sue Conley runs a prevention program for the Aids Project of Southern Vermont. Once a month, she speaks about HIV prevention at a methadone clinic.
"[Conley] kept saying we need a needle exchange in southern Vermont," Peterson said. "A real catalyst was the CDC study."
Peterson said she worked with the state in getting the program approved and registered. Then she contacted nearby providers to learn about supplies and scheduling.
A local advisory committee has formed in response. Brattleboro Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald sits on it.
"It's a really good program and the police department's behind it 110 percent," Fitzgerald said during a community forum on the opioid crisis on Tuesday.
A similar program was run from 2001 to 2005.
"We don't know what the extent will be," Peterson said, regarding the number of members.
For more information on the program, call 802-254-4444.
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.