Pubdate: Fri, 20 Jun 2003
Source: Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (WA)
Copyright: 2003 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Author: Kathleen Obenland


The increase may be due to more awareness about the program, or a possible 
rise in intravenous drug use.

Drug addicts and other users took nearly twice as many syringes to a local 
needle exchange program in 2002 compared to the year before, according to 
the HIV/AIDS assistance agency, Blue Mountain Heart to Heart.

Officials speculate the rise could be due to increasing awareness about the 
exchange program, a possible rise in intravenous drug use in Walla Walla, 
or both.

Intravenous drug users exchanged 12,036 dirty syringes for clean ones last 
year, said Adam Kirtley, Heart to Heart executive director. In 2001, the 
agency received 6,318 syringes in the program.

The number of people exchanging also has grown. Forty people visited the 
exchange in the first year of the program, 1998. Now it is around 100.

Many bring in needles for others as well as themselves, so the real number 
of people exchanging cannot be accurately determined, Kirtley said.

Most are white, middle-aged men. Some bring in just a few syringes, while 
others may exchange hundreds at a time.

"We try to collect information about the people, but many don't want to 
give it,' he said. ``We know that most are from Walla Walla, and a few from 
outlying areas.'

Exchanges this year seem to have kept pace with the high number in 2002, he 

Agency Volunteer and Prevention Services Coordinator Matt Testa-Wojteczko 
attributes the rising number of exchanges to the people who bring in 
numerous syringes for others. The agency has done a great deal of outreach 
in the past year to raise awareness and try to reduce the number of dirty 
syringes circulating in the community.

Sheriff Mike Humphreys said that increasing methamphetamine use in the area 
likely plays a role.

"It goes along with the meth problem we have,' Humphreys said. "More people 
are using meth, because it is a cheaper drug, and a lot of them are taking 
it intravenously. But I also think that education-wise, (Heart to Heart) 
has done a good job to help quell the problem of transmitted diseases.'

Walla Walla Police Chief Chuck Fulton said his officers are seeing more 
syringes at crime scenes, which may indicate an increase in intravenous use 
of a variety of drugs.

However, he does not support needle exchanges. While studies have not found 
that exchanges increase drug use, he doesn't like the message the exchange 

"I think it is enabling, putting an 'It's OK' on the problem,' Fulton said.

Heart to Heart started the exchange program in Walla Walla in 1998 to 
reduce the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users. Users get one clean 
syringe for every dirty one.

Heart to Heart also occasionally receives syringes from people such as 
diabetics with legitimate reasons for having them, but the agency 
discourages the public from using it for general needle disposal, Kirtley said.

"We're not set up for that,' he said. "Once, when the office was locked, 
someone actually left a bag of syringes outside the door.'

Needle exchanges are done at Heart to Heart at 2330 Eastgate St. during 
office hours.

In 2002, the agency also gave out 190 bleach kits to sterilize needles, 258 
condoms, 88 educational and referral materials, and 3,902 booklets and 
brochures that dealt with preventing disease. Among the more popular 
booklets among users is "Getting Off Right,' an instructional manual for 
shooting up safely, Kirtley said.

While abstinence is the best way to avoid HIV, the program recognizes that 
most of the people coming in are not going to stop, officials said. The 
goal therefore is to help them avoid disease.

"We're not a substance abuse treatment facility, nor do we aspire to be,' 
Testa-Wojteczko said. "...The overriding purpose is disease prevention. The 
secondary goal is reducing the impact that drug use has on the Walla Walla 
community in general.'
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens