ACR Health’s syringe exchange program getting no money from state

Updated: Sep. 18, 2020 at 10:32 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - ACR Health’s syringe exchange program helps hundreds of people in the north country who are suffering from addiction, but right now the program isn’t getting money from the state to help pay its workers.

Inside Watertown’s ACR Health, people who inject drugs can drop off their used needles and pick up clean ones

“We are not enabling drug users, we are educating drug users, people that use drugs. We are educating them and preventing them from getting a disease and spreading a disease to someone else,” said Wil Murtaugh, ACR Health executive director.

About 800 people in the north county use the syringe exchange program. The state supplies syringes and other items for free.

However, right now with COVID-19, ACR Health doesn’t have a contract with the state, which it relies on, to pay the workers who run the syringe exchange program.

“We are going to try and keep it going as long as we can. Eventually we won’t have the money to support the program and eventually will have to furlough those people until they find the money to bring them back on and have the program continue. I’m hoping months before we have to do that because this program is critical for the health of the community,” said Murtaugh.

7 News reached out to the Department of Health and received a statement from a spokesperson from the New York State Division of the Budget saying, “In the absence of federal aid, the state has no choice but to temporarily withhold portions payments in order to ensure it can fund critical services in the midst of a pandemic.”

But with an with an increase in overdoses due to the pandemic, health officials say the demand for services like this one have increased.

“People’s lives depend on this program. Research studies for years have proved the success of this program,” said

Roberto Gonzalez, director of syringe exchange, ACR Health.

ACR Health furloughed 70 employees in July due to lack of payment on other contracts.

Murtaugh says many of those workers will be back by the end of the month.

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