Needle Exchange Program’s Move To East Liberty Could Be A Challenge

Feb 23, 2017

The nonprofit that runs the needle exchange program in Allegheny County is leaving it's current location in Oakland. 

Each Sunday, as many as 75 intravenous drug users or their surrogates visit the Prevention Point Pittsburgh needle exchange program at the Oakland office. But the exchange will move to East Liberty in April.

The health department is moving its clinic and wasn't able to guarantee Prevention Point would be able to use those facilities on Sundays. 

Prevention Point Executive Director Aaron Arnold said it will be a challenge to make sure clients show up at the new location.

“People have been coming to Oakland for years and not everybody is using our services on a weekly or even a monthly basis,” Arnold said.

Pittsburgh City Council approved the move to East Liberty last week and Arnold said Prevention Point started to notify its clients immediately.

“By having flyers at our site, verbally telling people, but also putting something in their supplies that they receive from us,” Arnold said.

He said he also plans to place someone at the Oakland site after it closes to direct people to the new location.

Though the move will allow Prevention Point to use Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force staff and resources to shore up its current testing for hepatitis C, HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

“We had always had to provide all of the labor and all of the infrastructure to do our services on Sundays,” Arnold said. “Pittsburgh AIDS Task force (is) already open for testing services on Sunday. So we’ll be able to just plug into the existing infrastructure there. And it will be a little bit smoother and a little less of a burden for us.”

Prevention Point clients will also be able to access syphilis testing at the new location. Arnold said they are exploring the possibility of offering the HIV prevention drug know as PrEP to its list of services.

Arnold said there has been a marked increase in the number of clients as the opioid epidemic has grown.

“It was a steady increase over many years and then in the last two to three years, you know, you see a little bit more of a dramatic rise,” he said.

The nonprofit has had to fund additional private donations and foundation grants to keep up with the demand.

Prevention Point offers needle services out of a mobile unit Tuesdays in Perry Hilltop and Wednesdays in the Hill District. Arnold said the three locations combined serve about 750 unique clients each year in a total of about 3,500 interactions.

(Photo via Nathan Forget/Flickr)