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Has needle exchange program helped or hurt Milwaukee's heroin epidemic?

Posted at 6:43 AM, Feb 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 07:52:19-05

MILWAUKEE -- The Department of Health is reminding us how the heroin epidemic is tearing at the fabric of our community.

HIV can survive on syringes for up to 42 days, while Hepatitis C can last up to four days.

Back in 2017 activist Raphael Mercado showed us the alarming number of heroin needles on the south side. He works with Team H.A.V.O.C. which stands for Together Everyone Achieves More Helping Another Volunteer or Cause.

We asked Mercado if he has seen a decrease of needles in our community, "No they're still there. We're still getting the complaints of people to come, finding them here, we're finding them there."

He was skeptical over a needle exchange program created by the United Migrant Opportunity Services, or UMOS.

A spokesman says since August of 2018, 2,000 clean syringes have been given out for free. UMOS is currently getting 63 percent back.

"It's still not good enough again our goal is to have a 100 percent exchange ratio," said Rod Ritcherson, UMOS Spokesperson.

"It seems like its a pretty good number. I mean its more than 50 percent. It's a good start," said Mercado.

In November a UMOS spokesperson told TODAY'S TMJ4 they were working on finding safer ways for people to throw away dirty needles.

"One such idea is the use of a secure mailbox-type disposal units placed in targeted areas."

As of today, that still has not happened.

Just last month UMOS and several other organizations presented the mailbox initiative to the city. They are waiting to see where they would be able to test it.

Ritcherson noted the positives, "It prevents it from being discarded on one's ground in parks on sidewalks and so forth. That's the alternative."

The Department of Health noted 118 new cases of HIV diagnosed in the city of Milwaukee. That is an eight percent increase for 2017.

Milwaukee County ranked worst for Hepatitis C cases that same year. The majority were from dirty syringes.