In a personal silver lining to these difficult times, I have gained the opportunity to complete syringe access services as part of the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jefferson County Public Health’s (JCPH) syringe exchange program, Points West, remains an essential medical service. By providing naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and other harm reduction supplies, Points West helps people who use drugs avoid overdoses, assesses, and spreading and contracting STDs. Preventing these health complications also lessens the burden on our hospitals, allowing frontline workers to better focus on treating individuals with COVID-19.
Unfortunately, almost all the employees usually completing syringe exchange at JCPH have personal or familial health complications that make it impossible to continue working with the public at this time. Thus, JCPH reached out to me to see if I would be comfortable assisting with the new Points West. Feeling rather useless at home, I jumped at the chance to safely serve my community during this challenging period.
The limitations in service can get frustrating.
Syringe exchange looks quite different than before the start of the pandemic. With each passing week, we receive new information and guidance that allow us to adapt our services to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Currently, Points West opens only two days a week and clients are not allowed to enter our building. Clients dispose of syringes in a drop box right outside the front door, and can then call the Points West phone line to order the supplies they need for the next few weeks. If clients do not have a phone, we will come outside to speak with them standing 6 feet away. JCPH staff are required to wear masks when interacting with others, and our shifts at Points West are a constant cycle of changing gloves, applying hand sanitizer, and long hand-washing sessions. Though Points West normally limits the amount of needles given in one visit, we can currently give enough resources to supply clients for 3-4 weeks. This way, we can have clients limit their contact with others as well as prepare should access to safe works remain limited.
The limitations in service can get frustrating. Without a private room to offer and the goal of limiting contact between individuals, we cannot offer the deeper emotional support and personal discussions that clients particularly need now. We are limited in our data collection, as he call-in system and goal of eliminating contact unfortunately limits the number of questions we can ask or answers we can expand on. And though we can still provide syringes and other works, we unfortunately cannot provide immunizations, STD testing, or other life-saving clinical services.
Luckily, I have also experienced many bright spots while working in Points West. I have learned so much in these past weeks about safer drug use and harm reduction, knowledge that will surely inform my work post-quarantine. I have met some incredible individuals, many of whom come to syringe exchange not just for themselves, but also for friends and family members who cannot come for supplies. Our clients have much empathy for other drug users, and they understand the public health benefits in maximizing access to safer drug use. Though I leave most of my shifts exhausted, I also leave satisfied that our team is providing a valuable service to the county.
For more information about Points West visit: https://www.jeffco.us/2134/Points-West-Syringe-Services-Program
For more information about the Community Opioid Response Program visit: https://wearetheari.org/americorps-corp/