For the first time in Tennessee history, local-level nonprofits will be able to establish and maintain syringe exchange programs. The programs are politically controversial, but medical experts generally agree they reduce disease transmission and may offer a path for addicts to enter recovery.
The law that allows establishment of SEPs provides no state funding. Its wording has been interpreted to mean government agencies, such as county health departments, are also barred from participating in exchange programs. That puts the responsibility on non-profits.
"It's not a popular thing that philanthropists want to give dollars to support," Knoxville Metro Drug Coalition Executive Director Karen Pershing, said. "There are some national foundations...but usually that's a small amount of money, so you have to get multiple grants to really support [a] program going forward."
Pershing is familiar with the reticence to support SEPs. But she contends the cost is a worthy investment, especially compared to the alternative: expensive and lengthy treatments for people who contract diseases such as hepatitis and HIV from sharing used syringes.
Pershing's conversation with WUOT's Brandon Hollingsworth aired on Wednesday, July 12.