March 7, 2014

What The Four A’s Syringe Access Program Does For The Alaska Community

Since May 2007, Four A’s has operated two stand-alone syringe exchange programs in Alaska: one at the main office in Anchorage and the second at a satellite office in Juneau. About 1.2 million sterile syringes have been distributed in exchange for over 700,000 used and contaminated needles since the program’s inception. The program currently distributes approximately 25,000 sterile syringes and thousands of other safe drug injection supplies per month to hundreds of individual participants.

The primary group of participants of the Four A’s Syringe Access Program (FASAP) are individuals who experience addiction to injection drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamines. These individuals are typically very low income and undereducated and often experience homelessness, joblessness, and lack of transportation among other addition catalysts and barriers to treatment. Addition is a disease that can affect anyone, including the wealthy and educated, as made evident by the recent death of legendary actory Phillip Seymour Hoffman due to heroin overdose. However, the poor and undereducated are disproportionately affected by addition coupled with a lack of means to access and sustained treatment.

The purpose of the Four A’s Syringe Access Program is multifaceted. One primary success of the program is a reduction in the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C that is accomplished when clean needles are used instead of those which are contaminated with viruses and other pathogens that may cause various infections. Another area of success resulting from the program is decreased rates of overdose. Research shows that participants of syringe exchange programs use fewer drugs and use drugs less frequently in comparison to their usage dynamics prior to accessing sterile syringes. Furthermore, the Four A’s Syringe Access Program creates a safety net for the furst responders, such as police officers and emergency medical technicians, by decreasing the likelihood of unintentional needle-stick accidents due to the program’s safe collection and disposal of used and contraminated syringes. Dirty needles are ultimately kept off the streets of Anchorage and Juneau and therefore out of reach of curious children and off of pedestrian walkways. Syringe exchange programs improve the quality of living in communities where they are allowed to be present, and the Four A’s Syringe Access Program in Anchorage and Juneau is no exception.

Decades of research shows that syringe exchange programs are the primary means by which individuals addicted to injection drugs access health screenings and health education. It is extremely important for these individuals to seek out regular health screenings, such as HIV and Hepatitis C tests because hearing inaccurate health education messages is rampant. Many of these individuals choose not to pursue formal health screenings and education, such as the health clinics, due to prervasive stigma surrounding their drug use, fear of incarceration, and a lack of means by which to access and pay for treatment. Four A’s utilizes the syringe access programs in Anchorage and Juneau to recruit participants into accessing free HIV and Hepatitis C screening tests and to provide participants with health education, informational resources, and realistic options they can use to reduce their risk of contracting and spreading disease.

For more information on the Four A’s Syringe Access Program, contact Davy Norris, HIV Prevention and Education Coordinator, at (907) 263-2048 or by email.