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Fresno Doctor Gets OK for Needle Exchange Clinic at County Health Office
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 7 months ago on
September 5, 2023

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A needle exchange program will now receive Fresno County taxpayer support.

Dr. Marc Lasher, president of the nonprofit San Joaquin Free Medical Clinic and Needle Exchange, told the Fresno County Board of Supervisors that more lives are affected by drug use now than in the last 20 years.

Every Saturday since 1994, the volunteer-based clinic operates out of a bus for two hours near Roeding Park. They provide more than just clean needles   — other services include medical support, food, and drug treatment referrals.

Now, the clinic will move indoors at the county Dept. of Public Health building in downtown Fresno at 1221 Fulton Street. The supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday for a $0 lease with the clinic — a two-year pilot program that Lasher says has already saved the public money.

“This move will definitely make it a lot safer in our community for people to get access when they have a problem,” Lasher said. “This is coming out of the alleyways and into mainstream medicine. And therefore, it goes from charity to public responsibility.”

Lasher says the clinic exchanges up to 20,000 needles a week.

Supervisor Brian Pacheco praised the clinic during debate, acknowledging the needle exchange portion was the “anchor” suppressing public support in the past.

A recent visit to the clinic changed Pacheco’s perception.

“This program grants access to medical care to the most vulnerable and the most underserved in our community, and does so with dignity and respect,” Pacheco said. “I believe you’re saving lives.”

Sal Quintero and Buddy Mendes joined Pacheco in voting yes; Steve Brandau and Nathan Magsig voted no.

Clinic Saves Thousands

“This move will definitely make it a lot safer in our community for people to get access when they have a problem.”Dr. Marc Lasher

Lasher said in the last year, the clinic has seen 289 patients — saving the public $1,000 each from an ER visit. The clinic saved the public another $200,000 performing incisions and drainages.

Supporters say providing a needle exchange programs helps reduce incarceration and leads to healthier outcomes.

Dr. John Zweifler, with the clinic, said needle exchange programs promote the use of clean needles, and reduces bloodborne pathogens by half.

Asked by Magsig if needle exchange programs reduces drug use, Zweifler said, “Does providing auto insurance encourage auto accidents? Do remedial reading programs promote illiteracy?”

Patients receiving new needles would not be allowed to use on site. There were no major opponents who spoke publicly.

Success of the Program

When the move indoors to the county office is complete — in about a month, Lasher estimates — it will still operate just on Saturdays, but double the hours. The clinic will now operate from noon until 4 p.m. The clinic will offer shuttle services to the new office.

Lasher says one of the goals of his needle exchange program is the health of drug users.

“People in their addiction, they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and we just want them to be safe during that period of time and also meet with a health professional as opposed to their connection on the street in providing sterile needles and also edging them on into treatment,” Lasher said.

Over the years, Lasher’s program has issued 15,000 doses of Narcan, receiving 2,200 reports of drug overdose reversals.

For most of the clinic’s 20 years of existence, it relied on donations to fund the program. For the last three years, it received state funds.

 

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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