Syringe exchange program at Custer Health

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MANDAN, N.D. - A bill creating a new syringe exchange program in North Dakota and protecting participants passed the legislature on Monday. Here's a look at North Dakota's first such program, the "Good Neighbor Project" at Custer Health in Mandan.

The project started in January 2018. It provides a syringe exchange program and referrals for jobs and education, according to the Director of Nursing, Jodie Fetsch.

"It's not just a syringe exchange. A lot of people don't understand the whole concept behind it but it's a lot of education, it's a lot of trust building, and we're trying to prevent disease spread," said Fetsch.

She says that none of the participants that started the program without Hepatitis C have tested positive for it since.

We talked to Mandan Commissioner Dennis Rohr, who was involved with drug education and prevention programs for many years during his career. He said, "I've seen a lot of approaches to this here in terms of trying to correct the problem. The problem with the needle exchange program is it doesn't do anything to alleviate the drug problem."

According to Fetsch, people who participate in this kind of program are five times more likely to become drug free.

"A lot of them come back in for vaccinations, so we're vaccinating them, preventing disease, and that is what public health is all about," said Fetsch.

The program gives 10 needles in exchange for up to nine being brought in, and they give 20 to someone that brings in 10 or more.

Custer Health has been funding the program with grants rather than use county money. They received a $50,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Trust earlier this month