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The opioid epidemic is devastating communities across the country, and Western North Carolina is no exception. In fact, the overdose rate in Buncombe County nearly tripled in the first 8 months of 2017, compared to the entirety of 2016. There are 68 opioid pills prescribed per person per year in Buncombe County. In addition to prescribed opiates, the use of illegal opioid substances like heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil has skyrocketed in recent years.

 People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) run the risk not only of overdose but of contracting and spreading blood borne diseases like HIV and viral Hepatitis. That is why WNCAP operates the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville (NEPA), a syringe exchange program where people may drop off used needles for proper disposal and pick up free sterile needles and supplies. The Centers for Disease Control maintains that needle exchange programs are effective in bringing down rates of Hepatitis and HIV, and in 2016 the North Carolina legislature made it legal to operate needle exchange programs.

There is an overwhelming demand in our community for needle exchange. In August, over 800 people visited the WNCAP office to utilize our NEPA services. Although WNCAP’s service area is technically 18 counties in Western North Carolina, in 2016 people poured in from 32 counties and 4 states other than North Carolina. In that same year, WNCAP distributed over half a million needles, and between July 2016 and June 2017, NEPA accounted for a staggering 38% of all needle exchange activity in the state of North Carolina.

 In order to cope with this flood of demand, WNCAP has recently changed its NEPA hours of operation to 9am-5pm on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. This is so we can make supplies of needles last longer throughout the month. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, our partners at The Steady Collective distribute syringes and naloxone (Narcan) at Firestorm Books and Coffee and The Haywood Street Congregation, respectively. Our hope is that by slightly reducing our hours of operation, we can maintain supplies of syringes more consistently.

 As of now, WNCAP receives no money from the federal, state, or local government to help fund our needle exchange program. We rely on donations from individuals who are willing to step up and be a part of the solution to this growing public health crisis. WNCAP has launched a Gofundme page to raise money to help stop the spread of Hepatitis and HIV in our community. We encourage you to visit that page, learn more about this devastating epidemic, and to take action to help stop it.

 To learn more about the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville, please call us at (828) 252-7489 or email wncap@wncap.org. 

Author: wncap

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