Pubdate: Mon, 08 Nov 1999
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 1999 Associated Press


A $40,000 Grant Will Allow A Eugene Group To Give Needles To Drug Users In
Springfield And Rural Lane County

EUGENE -- A program that has already collected 4,403 used needles from
injection drug abusers will be expanding to Springfield by winter and to
rural Lane County by next fall thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Northwest
Health Foundation.

The HIV Alliance's Eugene needle exchange program is intended to reduce the
transmission of serious blood-borne disease from dirty needles.

People bring used needles to the program every Wednesday evening, carrying
them in bags, boxes, soda bottles and pockets. They are given clean, new

They are also given health information and supplies that reduce the harm
caused by the practice of injecting heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine
into veins or muscle. Some of the drug users may end up asking for
counseling, drug treatment or other social services.

National data reviewed by the federal Department of Health and Human
Services show such programs cut down on the transmission of AIDS-causing
HIV by 30 percent or more. A panel of the National Institutes of Health
concluded in 1997 that needle exchange programs either decrease or have no
effect on how often participants inject drugs.

Free needles, the studies indicate, apparently do not translate into more
injection drug use or new users.

The Eugene needle exchange project started on Aug. 25, operating out of a
large van in a public parking spot.

As word has spread on the streets, and drug users' trust in the program has
grown, so has the turnout: from six people the first night to 24 last
Wednesday, with some users bringing their own needles as well as needles
from friends.

The clients' average age is 31; three-fourths of the 100 people who've used
the service so far are male. They come on foot, by bike and in vehicles.

Heidi Schultz, HIV Alliance community health educator, runs the needle

She sets out orange juice, brochures in English and Spanish about hepatitis
and overdose prevention, tourniquets and a variety of safer sex supplies
such as condoms. She's happy to help users find counseling or a treatment
bed if they broach the subject.

Clean needles cost only about 25 cents to 30 cents each; and in Oregon,
unlike some states, pharmacies may legally sell needles without a
prescription. Still, they are in short supply on the streets for a variety
of reasons, Schultz says.

Some pharmacies, both chain and independent, set their own policies. In
Schultz's survey of 33 Lane County pharmacies, 12 chose to sell needles
only with a prescription. Others require syringe customers to show an ID
and sign a log book, a process drug users might want to avoid.

Some stores limit sales to 10 needles at a time, a supply that lasts a
typical addict

a couple of days. Other addicts are so driven to inject the next hit that
they ignore the dangers of sharing a needle.

Schultz says the goal of the needle exchange program is not to help users
quit. Instead, it's to help people live healthier lives, even if they're
still shooting drugs and are ready to make only tiny changes.

"Some people feel you can convince users they need treatment by pointing
out how crummy their life is. I don't believe that," says Schultz, who also
speaks Spanish. "People come to that place on their own."

Dr. Sarah Hendrickson, Lane County Public Health Officer, supports the

"From a public health point of view," she said, "this is great if it gets
the needles out of the bushes."

Eugene police also see the exchange as a public health issue, said officer
Jennifer Bills of the Whiteaker Public Safety Station.

"As the police department, we're not taking a stand either way on it,"
Bills said. "It's another social service available in Whiteaker, and it's
treated as such. We're pretty much letting them be." 
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