Pubdate: Sat, 19 Dec 1998 
Source: Washington Post (DC) 
Copyright: 1998 The Washington Post Company
Page: B01
Author: David Montgomery, Washington Post Staff Writer 


Private Firm Adopts Program

The news spread among the city's heroin addicts yesterday: The needle
exchange truck was back in business.

Until the program was suspended in October by an act of Congress, the
unmarked white van, actually a converted television news satellite truck,
had distributed 17,000 clean hypodermic needles a month in exchange for
used needles.

"Where have you been?" said Junior Romanic, 37, climbing aboard at Georgia
and New Hampshire avenues NW. "I've been looking for the truck all over."

Romanic, who said that he has been homeless for about eight years and that
he is an occasional heroin user, exchanged 100 needles, many of which he
said he had found in alleys near Park View Elementary School. He said he
planned to give many of the new needles away, though he also could sell
them on the street for $1 or $2 apiece.

Michael Pryor, 44, program manager, was glad to be making his rounds again.
Along with free clean needles, he also dispenses information about AIDS and
drug treatment programs. After numerous studies, there is little debate in
the medical community that needle exchange programs can slow the spread of
AIDS without increasing drug use.

"Even if they do the wrong thing with the needle, which we cannot control,
they've done a good thing, which is not to share," Pryor said.

In October, a provision in the D.C. budget appropriation barred government
funding for needle exchange programs and prevented groups that receive
federal funding from supporting such programs.

The city's two-year-old effort had been operated by the Whitman-Walker
Clinic. The directors of the clinic transferred the program to a new
private corporation called Prevention Works Inc. with no legal ties to

Traffic was a little slow at the van on its first day back in operation. It
has a regular schedule of 10 stops throughout the city and visits each
location twice a week. Pryor said the number of clients would pick up as
word got around that the truck was running again. There are about 3,200
addicts enrolled in the program.

"This is the best thing happening for us," said a 44-year-old addict named
Tony, who exchanged 23 needles. "If you have the truck, you don't have to
worry about getting infected."

Tony said he is unemployed and on waiting lists for two treatment programs.

Pryor and his colleague, Vera Lindsey, 32, signed up several new clients at
Fourth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE. Two said they were HIV-positive.

Newcomers must prove they are current drug users by showing fresh needle
tracks, because hustlers who don't use drugs sometimes try to enroll in
order to get the needles and then sell them on the street. New clients
receive an identification card, two needles, a metal cap or "cooker" for
mixing and heating powdered heroin with water, a small water bottle and
cotton filters to screen solid debris from the needle. Sharing any of those
items can spread AIDS.

Regular clients get new needles only in a one-for-one exchange for used

Pryor and Lindsey have earned the trust of many addicts while gaining
enough street savvy not to be conned. Romanic brought a friend who said she
wanted to enroll. But she declined to show any needle tracks, and Pryor
could tell the woman wasn't a heroin addict, so he turned her away.
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Checked-by: Richard Lake