Juneau’s only syringe exchange program may close

Discarded needles at the Four A’s syringe exchange in Anchorage. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Discarded syringes at the Four A’s exchange in Anchorage. Federal funding will continue for the Anchorage Four A’s office, but not for Juneau’s. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

The Juneau branch of the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association, or Four A’s, is at risk of closing by the end of June. In addition to free HIV testing, counseling services, and education, the Four A’s provides Juneau’s only syringe exchange program. In August alone, the Four A’s exchanged more than 3,000, free of cost.

Bradley Grigg, the chief behavioral health officer at Bartlett Regional Hospital, worries that the loss of a syringe exchange program could worsen the effects of the opioid crisis in Juneau.

“The one word I would use to describe the Four A’s clinic here in Juneau is ‘essential,’” Grigg said.

The group prevents the use of dirty needles, which spread HIV, Hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases.

“Which would in turn, in many ways, affect our public health center and our hospitals and our clinics. I think that would be the biggest impact that we can absolutely predict if this service goes away,” Grigg said.

Four A’s says prevention funding that used to come from the federal government was cut several years ago, because Alaska is classified as a low-risk state for HIV. As a result, the money they do receive is only allotted for the state’s largest city, in this case Anchorage. The group is looking for other funding options to try to keep the Juneau office operating.

Bartlett is working with the Four A’s to find alternative sources of funding. If the group is forced to close down, Executive Director Heather Davis said they hope to at least pass off the syringe exchange program to another prevention organization in town.

“We definitely feel the need to keep it going, and Four A’s board of directors feels the need to try to keep it going if we can,” she said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do, looking at different resources available, trying to find small grants to support it, doing a crowdfunding campaign right now. And just getting the word out, making sure people know about the program and understand the importance of the program and all that it offers.”

The crowdfunding campaign has a goal of $15,000, which the group says will keep the office open through the end of June.

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