A south-Pittsburgh needle exchange is no longer being proposed for a residential area of the Carrick neighborhood. Instead, the Allegheny County Board of Health on Wednesday gave approal to an alternative location on Route 51.
Community opposition pushed the non-profit Prevention Point Pittsburgh to find a new location. If granted final premission by Pittsburgh City Council, Fairhaven United Methodist Church in Overbrook would be Prevention Point's fourth location for the distribution of sterile needles to injection drug users.
“When it comes to these types of issues, it’s always difficult to figure out how they affect the neighborhood, how people perceive of them," said health department director Karen Hacker. "I'm just very happy to have a site that’s been identified that can move forward.”
Unlike the previously proposed site, the church is in a commercial area and therefore more accessible by public transportation. However, since many people use opioids in residences and prefer to be private in their substance use, the more public nature of the new location may deter some from taking advantage of the needle exchange.
Fatal overdose data show that opioid use is high in Pittsburgh’s southern neighborhoods. For this reason, public health workers have long advocated for a needle exchange in the area to mitigate the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
"We’re excited to bring the services," said Prevention Point executive director Aaron Arnold. "We had somebody who came to our East Liberty site who walked from the old county airport ... and we said, ‘Hopefully we’ll have something closer to you soon,’ and so he was very excited about that news."
Pittsburgh City Council could vote on the Route 51 exchange as early as next week. If Prevention Point's application is approved, it would have premssion to operate from noon to 6 p.m. on Thursdays.*
*Language has been added to clarify possible operation times for the needle exchange.