Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jun 2004
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2004 The Register-Guard
Author: Tim Christie, The Register-Guard
Cited: HIV Alliance
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


HIV Alliance plans to eliminate funding for its successful needle-exchange 
program by the end of the year. Among the results could be more disease 
spread among addicts and more dirty needles littering the city.

The alliance will ask local government, medical and charitable institutions 
to save the exchange.

"What we've been doing is great, but it goes way beyond our mission," said 
Diane Lang, executive director of the Eugene-based nonprofit agency. "Our 
mission is to stop HIV, not to control health care costs and side effects 
of drug abuse in our community."

Since 1999, HIV Alliance staffers have hit the streets and parks of Eugene 
several times a week, handing out clean hypodermic needles to drug addicts 
in exchange for dirty ones.

It's not glamorous work but it helps prevent the spread of disease, and it 
reduces the number of discarded, dirty needles because addicts must turn 
over their old needles to get new ones. It also puts addicts in touch with 
people who can help when they're ready to quit.

Addicts who use the program are less likely to share needles, reducing the 
spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, and less likely to reuse 
dull, dirty needles that can cause nasty infections that can lead to costly 
hospital visits.

Leaders of the cash-strapped agency had to cut 10 percent of its $840,000 
budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, and rather than make 
across-the-board cuts, executives and board members made the difficult 
decision to cut what may be its most effective program.

"This is painful because this program is so critical to preventing HIV in 
this area," board member Betsy Smith said.

HIV Alliance spent $145,000 in the current fiscal year for a program that 
agency officials say provides incalculable communitywide public health 

The cost for hospitalizing and treating an addict with an infected abscess 
- - caused by reusing dirty needles - can cost from $35,000 to $100,000, Lang 
said. To treat a single case of HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - costs 
$150,000 to $195,000.

The HIV Alliance board decided Thursday to fund the program through the end 
of the year, and use that time to seek support from civic, community and 
health leaders to continue the program. The agency will continue to staff 
the program if others pick up the cost of supplies, Lang said.

The bulk of outside funding currently comes from PeaceHealth, parent 
corporation of Sacred Heart Medical Center, which provides materials and 
supplies and disposal of dirty needles valued at more than $25,000 a year, 
and United Way, which contributes $13,000.

HIV Alliance wants to bring in additional partners, including the cities of 
Eugene and Springfield, Lane County, and McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center.

While continuing the program for the next six months, the agency is cutting 
back on the supplies that it provides to addicts in addition to clean needles.

No longer will addicts get first-aid supplies, such as gauze and 
antibacterial ointment; safer injection supplies such as alcohol wipes, 
tourniquets, clean water and bleach; different size needles and sharps 
containers; and condoms and lube. Instead, they'll get one size needle and 
one size sharps container.

The HIV Alliance program - the largest in Oregon - exchanges about 52,000 
needles every month, reaching about 30 percent of Lane County's 10,000 
injection drug users through direct exchanges and another 45 percent 
through indirect exchanges, Lang said.

The idea behind the program is known as harm reduction: Encouraging addicts 
to make incremental steps toward safer behavior, and building trust so when 
they're ready to quit, they know where to turn for help.

"We recognize the fact that not every person is ready or able to quit using 
drugs at any given time," said Sharon Chamberlain, the agency's injection 
drug use outreach director.

"Our point is we would like to keep them safe so when that time comes for 
them, they can access detox or drug rehab without the extra burden of 
having HIV or Hepatitis C."

Agency officials say the program has succeeded in changing addicts' 
attitudes and behavior, where sharing needles is not acceptable.

"It's no longer the norm in Eugene to share needles," Lang said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake