By MARK O'BRIEN
ALBANY, N.Y. -- A free needle exchange program for drug users is coming to Albany starting on Monday, Feb. 1.
"Project Safe Point" is a joint effort between Catholic Charities and the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York, thanks to grant money from the New York Department of Health.
In the program, users will be allowed to turn in used and dirty syringes and get clean ones for free. Organizers say similar programs across the state and the country have cut down on drug use. They also say Albany's needle exchange will be an important way for stopping the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, as well as educating drug users to recovery options that are available.
"We hope to make the community safer," says Angela Keller of Catholic Charities, "so we want to take used syringes off the streets so that people can't come into contact with them."
"This is an important opportunity to get contact with people who may not be involved with any other system and help them get into treatment," says Michele McClave of the AIDS Council.
Organizers emphasize that the users' privacy will be protected: no names or addresses will be taken, and no information will be shared with police.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares supports the program, saying this will be a successful way of reducing drug use and reaching out to users with testing, treatment and education.
Users will be able to get tested anonymously for HIV and Hepatitis C.
The program starts on Feb. 1 and will run Monday through Friday. The white "Project Safe Point" van will visit Albany's South End (Dongan Ave. and Bassett St.) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Albany's Arbor Hill (N. Swan St. and Ten Broeck Pl.) from noon to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.