JACKSON, MI (WILX) - One of the disturbing side effects of the heroin epidemic is the needles addicts leave behind.
It's a health hazard for both the people who use them and those who find them.
That's why Jackson is creating a needle exchange program.
A group called JXN Harm Reduction got the go ahead to start a needle exchange program in the city where addicts can bring their used needles and switch them out for new ones.
"If it's somebody who's a needle user and they're walking down the road and they don't have nothing and they have their stuff to get high and they see a dirty needle, they're picking it up," said former addict Samantha Mead.
Mead is now in recovery, but the effects of drug use are still with her.
"I ended up having endocarditis and I have osteomyelitis of the spine. Now the endocarditis, that comes from a dirty needle," she said.
Stopping the spread of diseases is one of the goals of the needle exchange program.
It will likely be headquartered at the Jackson Interfaith Shelter with healthcare providers and counselors volunteering their time.
"We're creating that relationship. We're starting to get them more resources to hopefully move into a path of recovery, and then we're also getting those needles off the street," said Laura Stephens, manager of the Jackson Interfaith Shelter.
Critics of the program say it encourages addicts to keep using.
One person wrote on Facebook, "Most people will view this as nothing more than the enabling of drug use instead of combating it and the dealers, I do."
"There's a level of responsibility that is placed on the people who are coming to us for help, there is. We're not just handing out needles," said Stephens.
"Any time where we have passionate people from the community step up and say, 'Here's a problem and here's a solution that has worked,' I think it's incumbent on us to listen," said Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies.
Those organizing the program hope getting addicts in front of nurses and counselors will save lives and change the course of this growing problem.
"People in active addiction love to hear that there's somebody out there who cares," said Mead.
No tax dollars will be used to buy the needles.
JXN Harm Reduction will be taking care of that.
The disposal boxes will be put in spots around the city where users typically hang out.
Any used needles can be dropped off there even if they're used for a medical purpose.
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