- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

Yale University is planning to take over the city of New Haven’s drug needle exchange program, which was among the first in the country and became a national model for reducing HIV transmission.

After discussions with city officials, Yale is considering a contract with the Connecticut Department of Public Health to take over the program, which began in November 1990 after winning approval from the state legislature. It ended Dec. 31. It’s not clear when the Ivy League school will decide on the proposal.

In the meantime, drug users in New Haven will continue to have access to clean syringes through the community health care van operated by Yale’s School of Medicine since 1993. Yale officials say they have been giving out more needles in exchange for used ones since the city ended its program.

“We’ve been handling things even in the absence of the contract,” said Dr. Frederick Altice, a Yale professor who runs the health care van program. “It would be unethical and unconscionable to send people away.”

The city ended its program because of several reasons, said city spokesman Laurence Grotheer. City officials expect new state requirements soon for needle exchanges across Connecticut to provide more services for drug users, including health care and counseling.

“The city would likely not be in a position to address those provisions,” Grotheer said.

Officials also believe Yale is better suited to provide those extra services because the university is already doing so in the city with its 40-foot community health care van, he said. Besides clean needles, the van program also offers overdose antidotes, mental illness screening, counseling and treatment for mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.

Demand for clean syringes from the city’s program has been declining, due in part to Yale’s parallel efforts, Grotheer said. The city program distributed about 85,000 clean needles in 2015, about 35,000 fewer than the year before.

New Haven also was the last city government in the state running a needle exchange program, Grotheer said. Community groups run exchange programs in other cities.

The city’s program began as a one-year experiment through an act of the legislature, at a time when HIV infection rates through needle sharing were high.

In the first three years of the city’s program, the HIV infection rate among clients decreased by about a third, according to an analysis by Yale.

State government has been spending about $460,000 a year on needle exchange programs run in New Haven and other cities.

Altice is hoping Yale can use money from the state program to hire about three more staff members and set up a storefront location to run the needle exchange program, in addition to distributing needles from the health care van, which makes stops across the city.

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