October 18, 2021

Homer approves syringe exchange program

Details are still being worked out, but the village of Homer will soon allow a needle-exchange program to help prevent the spread of disease through shared needles, reduce the number of syringes on the ground and provide resources to opioid users.

“We’ll see how it goes. I’m very optimistic,” Mayor Hal McCabe said after the 3-2 vote Tuesday.

Trustees Kevin Slack and Ed Finkbeiner voted no, saying they wanted to see more data from Cortlandville’s recently approved program before allowing it in Homer.

In Cortlandville and Homer, the program will allow a mobile resource vehicle from the Southern Tier AIDS Program to come to the village so opioid users and others with syringes can dispose of them, get clean needles and also be connected to support services provided by the program, according to the program’s website.

As part of a one-year trial for the program, the village will work with the Southern Tier AIDS Program, Cortland Area Communities that Care, Family Counseling Services of Cortland’s Executive Director Lisa Hoeschele, and Dean O’Gorman, the program director of Healing Hearts Collaborative.

“This isn’t a Band-Aid, this is actually trying to get ahead of a problem and trying to help save lives,” O’Gorman said at the meeting. “This is something that has been supported by over 30 years of data. The county doesn’t have a program like this, so the towns and villages have to allow the programs.”

The mobile needle-exchange vehicle will set up at the village’s linear park construction site, along Route 11 near the Tioughnioga Riverfront, said Village Clerk Dan Egnor, but the frequency of the vehicle’s visits has yet to be determined.

The data consistently show that needle-exchange programs significantly increase the number of people who seek treatment, Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) said Tuesday.

“That is really important because we don’t have great effective mechanisms for getting people into treatment, and this provides a vehicle for that,” Kelles said.

Tompkins County’s needle-exchange program has seen a significant number of people entering into treatment, as well as a 104% return rate of needles, Kelles said.

“We can get access to people that are not getting services by other means,” said Matthew Whitman, executive director of Cortland Area Communities that Care. “That’s a really important thing, these are marginalized populations that need as many services as we can provide, and this is just another avenue to do that.”