Access Care and Resources for Health (ACR Health), a nonprofit community-based organization, has launched a syringe exchange program in Utica, New York, to help stem the spread of HIV and the hepatitis C virus (HCV) among rural and suburban injection drug users (IDUs) in the region, the Utica Observer Dispatch reports.

The initiative is an extension of ACR Health’s existing “Safety First” syringe exchange program in Syracuse, and will provide new and sterile syringes and other injecting equipment to any Utica resident who registers at the facility. The program also safely disposes of used needles as a means of preventing new infections.

The New York State Department of Health is funding the initiative. As a result of such programs, the HIV rate among IDUs in the state has dropped to around 3 percent, down from 54 percent from back in the 1990’s.

Officials also are looking to tackle hep C among IDUs. In Oneida County, where Utica is located, nearly 3,768 people are HCV positive and about 1,840 of them are chronically infected.

ACR Health also recently started another harm reduction initiative that provides IDUs in Utica with vouchers for free syringes from a local pharmacy. The nonprofit is seeking federal grants for their local syringe exchange efforts, which federal law prohibits.