As part of a Utah Department of Health project, the Safety Counts program serves as a sexually transmitted disease reduction program. With free HIV testing Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the program serves a unique role in Salt Lake City for gay and bisexual men.
“Our role is to help reduce and prevent the transmittance of disease, especially in the men who have sex with men and Latino communities,” said Andrew Leasy, a community outreach coordinator for the program. “Studies have repeatedly shown those are the two communities impacted most by HIV and other STDs.”
Safety Counts is located at 154 E. 700 South and along with free testing, it offers water, a microwave, a warm environment to get out of the cold, bleaching kits for needles and pipe covers. Because needle-sharing is prevalent and is one of the most common ways STDs are spread, bleaching kits are given away for free to at-risk Utahns. The kits are not illegal to carry and are simple to use.
“We’re not encouraging drug use in any way,” Leasy said. “We just don’t live in a fantasy world where it doesn’t happen. We all know someone who is using or has used. These kits can help stop the spread of disease from you to others or from others to you. If you’re going to use, at least do so safely.”
Rubber pipe covers can prevent users from burning their lips, potentially spreading blood and diseases such as hepatitis from one mouth to another.
The Safety Counts offices are judgment-free and everyone can feel welcome. Group classes about setting goals and overcoming addiction are offered with a $10 reward for participating. The classes will start after three people are interested and the lessons focus on setting small goals to try to help encourage people to get their lives back on track.
“We really want to get the word out about Safety Counts. There are so many great resources here, but not very many people are taking advantage of it,” Leasy said.