Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) Contact: (414) 224-8280 Website: http://www.jsonline.com/ Pubdate: Fri, 03 Apr 1998 Author: Kevin Murphy of the Journal Sentinel staff NEEDLES TAKEN TO MADISON DRUG USERS Exchange in minivan supplements anti-AIDS efforts at clinics Madison -- A minivan making stops around Madison on Thursday began exchanging the first of 70,000 needles an AIDS prevention agency expects to distribute to intravenous drug users this year in exchange for their used needles. Madison-based AIDS Network has contracted with AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin to provide staffing and supplies in an outreach program aimed reducing the spread of HIV among drug users who share dirty needles. Madison in 1996 became the first Wisconsin city to fund a needle exchange program, and the city Health Department's program now serves about 600 intravenous drug users a month through a program operated largely at clinics. However, the program that started Thursday was needed to reach the high-risk drug users who are unlikely to go to a clinic to exchange their needles, said Mary Turnquist, executive director of the AIDS Network. "A mobile van is more confidential and more anonymous than a fixed site," she said. "A focus group of injection drug users told us that few of them ever used fixed sites but that a van coming into their community would be used." Efforts were made to keep the van's stops secret to keep potential needle exchangers from being scared off by inquisitive news media. However, by early Thursday afternoon, the van's staff had reached about 12 people, providing condoms and exchanging about 60 needles, said Rudi Baker-Jambretz, associate director of the AIDS Network. "The people want the service and are glad it's here," Baker-Jambretz said. "We're following up on the relationships established by our outreach counselor, who has been working in the injection drug community the past seven years." Although the program's priority is to exchange needles and save lives, it also encourages people to get off drugs and into drug treatment, said Doug Nelson, executive director of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which for the past four years has run a needle exchange program in Milwaukee and Racine. "We go where the drug users are: in the streets," Nelson said. "We want them to access the program and counsel them on a daily basis on how to get into drug treatment. It's an outreach program to get them to improve their lives." Nelson said a 1997 study showing that only 2% of Milwaukee's intravenous drug users were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, compared with 20% in Chicago, provided clear proof that the needle exchange program reduced HIV transmission. "Also, in the past year we got more than 200 drug users in treatment and off drugs. That's a new record," he said. AIDS prevention groups are urging the Clinton administration to accept several studies concluding that needle exchanges don't increase drug use but decrease the spread of HIV, said Turnquist. AIDS Network will pay about $30,000 for the van and staff to make twice-weekly visits to the Madison area, and it will spend $23,000 on staffing for intensive counseling and treatment services, Turnquist said. After the program is established in Madison, it will be expanded to Rock County, one of the 13 counties in the AIDS Network's service area.