Needle Exchange sites focus on clean-up

Volunteers picking up litter on near the sidewalk. (WTHR Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – Dozens of people from the Marion County Health Department and other groups took part in a large neighborhood clean-up on the city's near east side Tuesday morning.

It took place in and around the Brookside area, where the county's first-ever needle exchange program launched in mid-April. The program is administered through a mobile unit that visits the Damien Center each Wednesday and Brookside Community Church every Friday.

The nearly 80 people went block-to-block picking up all sorts of litter with trucks hauling off trash left behind in alleys.

Mick Iela, who lives in the area said of the sweep, "I think it's a good cause to clean up for the community and get the trash off the streets, because there's lots of litter."

The clean-up wasn't just about picking up trash, but reassuring residents about the new program.

The area, the 46201 zip code, has been hit hard by the injection drug epidemic, which has led to a spike in Hepatitis C cases and fears of surge in the spread of HIV. Both of which can be transmitted through shared needles.

Ryan McConnell with the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis said, "We want to help engage and educate people who may have questions (about the program.) Ultimately, it's to benefit the community but we understand some may be apprehensive about that."

For one, worried about what's left behind, especially syringes.

"That's a scary thought that any of our children could get hold of one of these," said neighborhood leader Chris Staab, who supports the program.

Today, just one syringe was found. It was in the street and disposed of by a public health officer.

Madison Weintraut, who manages the safe syringe program said, so far they haven't heard any complaints about the program or about syringes.

"Not a single one," she said. "I haven't heard a single complaint about syringes found or discarded in the community."

It's a trend she hopes continues, as will the periodic clean-ups.