September 28, 2021

Needle exchange program proposed in Cortland County

Plans are in the works to create a hypodermic needle exchange program in Cortland County to help people at risk of drug addiction, AIDS and other health problems from sharing needles.

John Barry, executive director of the Southern Tier AIDS Program, told the Cortlandville Town Board on Wednesday that a van would come once every week.

Barry said Friday he has no specific location or timeline, but he is presenting the concept to officials in Cortland County to gather support. He said he has also spoken with Homer officials and will speak with representatives of other communities.

A similar mobile van arrangement is in place in Ithaca, Johnson City and Norwich, which first began seven or eight years ago, Barry said, noting the syringe exchange program through his organization dates back to 2002.

The program tries to get people with drug addictions into treatment and promotes healthy living by promoting safe sex and counseling, he said.

“It is unacceptable to let people hit rock bottom before helping them,” Barry told the Cortlandville Town Board.

The syringe exchange can prevent significant health risks that take a toll on an individual and avoid expensive health care costs that are borne by the whole community, he said.

Dean O’Gorman, a Cortland man who has worked to help people with addiction problems since his son, Spencer, died of a drug overdose in 2017, held a framed photo of his son as he and Barry gave the presentation to the town board.

The program would reduce transmission of disease and reduce the incidence of discarded needles in public areas like parks, said O’Gorman, active with the Healing Hearts Collaborative.

Town Supervisor Tom Williams, a retired state trooper, said he sympathized with families dealing the drug addiction. He said the most difficult part of being a police officer was notifying parents that their children had died of an overdose or some other cause.