Gateway to Hope- Syringe Services Program

The REAL story behind the Tippecanoe County syringe exchange numbers . . .

The syringe return rate of 52% reported in the Journal & Courier is not a correct interpretation of the data.  And here’s why.

Before looking at the actual numbers, a simplified example may help explain things.

Let’s say the syringe exchange program had only 10 participants who were each given 1 syringe at their first visit.  New participants rarely, if ever, bring in used syringes at their first visit, so none were returned at week 1. The following week, the 10 participants each bring their syringe back and exchange it for a clean syringe.  So, at the end of week 2, the program would have distributed a total of 20 syringes (10 during week 1 and 10 during week 2) and collected 10 used syringes.  Let’s say this pattern continues each week, like this:

Week

Syringes given out

Syringes returned

Cumulative total syringes given out

Cumulative total syringes returned

1

10

0

10

0

2

10

10

20

10

3

10

10

30

20

4

10

10

40

30

5

10

10

50

40


What would you consider the return rate to be?  Would it be 50% (10/20 at week 2), 66% (20/30 at week 3), 75% (30/40 at week 4), or 80% (40/50 at week 5)?  Or, would it be more accurate to consider the return rate to be 100%, since in each of these weeks all 10 of the syringes given out the previous week were returned? 

Gateway to Hope, Tippecanoe’s syringe exchange program, has been operating since August 11, 2017.  Between August 11 and September 30, the program had 83 participants and distributed 4475 clean syringes while collecting 2327 used syringes.

Gateway to Hope is in its early stage, like week 2 in the example above.  The total syringes returned divided by the total given out (2327/4475) is 52%.  But, like in the example, it’s not correct to consider this the return rate so early in the program’s existence.

Of the 4475 syringes given out between August 11 and September 30, 2490 were provided to new participants at their first visit.  2327 of these were returned, resulting in a return rate of 93% (2327/2490).  The returned syringes were exchanged for 1985 clean syringes, so as of September 30, the program’s 83 participants collectively had 2148 clean syringes (an average of 26 per participant).

Contrary to what the J&C article suggests, these 2148 syringes are not “unaccounted” syringes out in our community.  They were given out specifically to prevent needle sharing and disease transmission.  Most of these syringes will be returned to the program and exchanged for clean syringes.  There’s an incentive for participants to return their used syringes – it’s the only way to get clean syringes.  The number of clean syringes a participant gets is directly proportional to the number of used syringes returned.

This is how a syringe exchange works.  To stop people from sharing needles and spreading disease, they need to have clean needles.  So, the cumulative total syringes distributed at any given time will always be higher than the total returned, although it will decrease proportionally over time as it does in the example above.

This is all about HARM REDUCTION!


If you have questions we can be contacted at gatewaytohope@tippecanoe.in.gov or 765-423-9221

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We will update this page as new information is available.