Dubuque County explores need, readiness for syringe service program

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) -- An eastern Iowa community is exploring ways to help people struggling with substance abuse, particularly opioid use.

The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors commissioned MercyOne to complete a harm reduction needs assessment. It explored the need and readiness for syringe services, also known as needle exchanges, in Dubuque County.

One benefit of a syringe service is it can prevent people from sharing needles and spreading infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

The assessment found this could be happening across the county. The assessment estimates 174 people inject drugs in Dubuque county. However, it's possible that the number is higher or lower because it's difficult to measure.

Thirty-four people answered questions for the assessment, and 71 percent said they've shared needles. The assessment also notes Hepatitis C cases in Dubuque County have increased by 200 percent in the last five years.

Dubuque County Board of Health member Todd Lange sees syringe services as a way to reach out to drug users.

"I think the big thing is to engage people who have experience with substance use," Lange said. "Finding resources, if it's HIV or Hepatitis C testing if it's the distribution of Narcan, the overdose reversal drug."

The assessment found about 60 percent of people show some degree of support for a syringe service if it's legal. There is also support for other programs, such as disease testing.

Now that the Board of Health has this information, it will work with the Dubuque County Supervisors and other stakeholders to determine the next steps.