Fargo officials propose city's first needle exchange

FARGO -- Fargo Cass Public Health is proposing a needle exchange in downtown Fargo as part of an effort to reduce the societal cost of diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS, according to city officials.
Tim Mahoney

FARGO - Fargo Cass Public Health is proposing a needle exchange in downtown Fargo as part of an effort to reduce the societal cost of diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS, according to city officials.

"It's mainly a disease prevention issue," Mayor Tim Mahoney said Tuesday, Jan. 30. "People don't always see that."

He seemed to anticipate some public opposition because the main clients of needle exchanges are drug users. "Sometimes people say, 'Well, you're enabling.' We're not really enabling. We're protecting people from getting diseases that will cost the community far more," he said.

Public Health Director Ruth Roman said she still must get approval from the City Commission and the state, but she hopes to have something in place by mid-March.

The city has scheduled a public meeting at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 2, to discuss the proposed needle exchange, which would be located at 510 5th St. N. This is a city-owned building by the downtown water tower.

There already is a needle exchange in the area started by the Fargo/Moorhead Good Neighbor Project in 2015 out of downtown Moorhead. One of the founders of the project, Jeremy Kelly, works for the city of Fargo as a harm reduction specialist.

Roman said her department is working very closely with Kelly and Good Neighbor and is incorporating a lot of their practices, albeit with some changes to meet specific guidelines set out by the state Department of Health.

She said needle exchanges are very new to North Dakota and her department actually has a lot of expertise, though it hasn't yet started its own exchange.

Fargo Cass Public Health recently got a $75,000 contract from the state to help other public health departments set up their own needle exchanges.