By Liz Tufts


Twitter: @LTuftsABC6

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Opioid Crisis facing America has claimed many lives not only through overdoses, but also infectious diseases spread by sharing needles.

More people are being diagnosed with HIV and Hepatitis C, and the nationwide opioid epidemic is likely to blame.

Massachusetts is seeing an uptick in these illnesses, but it's not happening in Rhode Island, and one long-running program could be the reason why.

“Using a clean needle can save your life from HIV and Hepatitis C”, said Doctor Philip Chan, an infectious disease specialist. The new infections are mostly among young people who are transitioning from taking prescription pills to injecting heroin because it’s cheaper.

“Our neighbor, Massachusetts, is seeing more HIV cases and Hepatitis A and B so we are very concerned about it,” said Chan.

But this trend isn’t appearing in Rhode Island.

Dr. Chan says that's due in part to the state's encore program, where drug users can exchange used needles for new ones.

Raynald Joseph is the prevention supervisor at AIDS Care Ocean State, a group that helps run the program.

It was first established in 1994, but recently the number of people walking through the doors has spiked.

“People are going to use regardless, but we are giving them the means to use safely and correctly,” Joseph said.

People can exchange needles at two sites in the state.

The organization also has a team that takes to the streets, handing out clean needles and delivering them to people's homes.

Joseph says last year alone they collected nearly 100 thousand used needles.

“A clean needle does save lives, and some users know they are using a needle infected with HIV or Hepatitis C, but giving them that clean needle helps prevent that spread,” he said.

For more information on Rhode Island’s Encore program, visit connect with AIDS Care Ocean State on the web here.

©WLNE-TV / ABC6 2018