HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Getting Out The Word On Needle Exchange
Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jan 2008
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2008 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: John Sullivan
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Meet Abraham Brown, self-appointed marketing man for Camden's new
needle-exchange program.

After more than 20 years on the street, the acknowledged drug addict
knows whom to tell about the blue van parked Tuesday afternoons in the
Waterfront South area of Camden.

The program could use Brown's help.

In the two weeks since it launched, only seven people have signed up
for the Camden Area Health and Education Center syringe-exchange
program, in a city with more than its share of intravenous drug users.

Camden County ranks among the top in the state for drug abusers, with
1,516 heroin and opiate users alone seeking help in 2006, according to
the New Jersey Substance Abuse Monitoring System.

The state had more than 22,053 people who sought treatment for heroin
abuse that year.

The city of Camden ranks ninth among New Jersey municipalities for
residents infected with HIV/AIDS, which is commonly transmitted among
intravenous drug users by sharing needles. As of June 30, 2005, there
were 1,384 cases in the city, according to the New Jersey Division of
HIV/AIDS Services. Newark leads the state with 12,720.

Camden's is the second syringe-exchange program to open in New Jersey
since passage of legislation last year aimed at reducing the spread of
blood-borne diseases among intravenous drug users. The state was the
last in the country to legalize needle exchanges. Philadelphia already
offers the service.

In Atlantic City, a needle exchange opened in a drop-in HIV counseling
center in November and has already registered 170 people in a
state-mandated database. Exchanges are also set to open in Paterson
and Newark.

Part of the Atlantic City program's allure is that it is run by an
established treatment facility. That exchanges are made indoors and
there are free coffee and doughnuts doesn't hurt, either.

In Camden, the service is run out of a van and offers only the warm
hearts of workers and fresh needles.

Whether addicts show up, Kim McCargo, director of the Camden program,
promises that she and volunteers will be at South Broadway and
Fairview from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. every Tuesday.

That's important, Brown said.

"If there's one thing addicts don't like, it's inconsistency," Brown
said as he asked for a cigarette. "People need to know they can count
on them to be there when they need to get what they need."

The needle exchange is an oasis of reliability in the haphazard and
unpredictable schedule of scamming and hustling that addicts undertake
to feed their addiction.

They'll use whatever needles they can find if the needle-exchange van
isn't around. And that could mean death to users sharing needles with
someone infected with hepatitis or HIV.

Camden's program is struggling because the law that permitted free
distribution of syringes provided no funding, said McCargo, a longtime
HIV/AIDS worker. Her organization pays for the exchange with private
grant money.

Some money can be used solely to buy needles, while other funds are
restricted to pay administrative costs, she said.

The result is a van that contains two folding chairs and a plastic
table where clients sit for counseling.

"It's discouraging, but we'll keep doing what we can," McCargo

"We really need more money to let people know that using clean needles
can save lives," she said.

Yesterday, Brown showed up at the empty gravel lot at South Broadway
and Fairview, looking for the prostitutes with whom he occasionally
gets high.

After discovering the exchange, he marched past factories and
litter-strewn lots and over the hill he calls "the hump," to drag his
friend and first love, Cyndi, back to the van. Cyndi, who did not want
to give her last name because of the stigma associated with her
cocaine and heroin addictions, was the program's first client of the

Once inside, McCargo registered Cyndi and handed her 35 syringes.
Clients get one clean needle and 10 extras for every one they bring

A volunteer asked Cyndi, 40, whether she wanted addiction treatment
and suggested an HIV/AIDS test. Cyndi went into a mobile health center
parked a few feet away for health counseling and the test. A few
minutes later, she emerged with the results.

"Negative," she said.

Brown and Cyndi then hustled off to score, they said. By the end of
the day yesterday, three people, including Cyndi, had come to exchange

Syringe-exchange programs have drawn controversy from critics who
believe they encourage drug use. McCargo and advocates say such
programs save lives and ultimately save taxpayers money used to treat
those who can no longer care for themselves.

In Camden, the program has drawn much less scrutiny than a proposal to
move a methadone clinic from near Cooper University Hospital to a site
just a few hundred yards from the needle-exchange van.

On Monday, members of Camden's Sacred Heart Church gathered to oppose
the relocation of the Parkside Recovery Methadone Clinic. But they had
little to say about the exchange.

"The exchange is run very well and can save lives," said Msgr. Michael
Doyle of Sacred Heart, who has been in Camden for 40 years.

"This is where the drug people are," he said, explaining that the
exchange saves lives, but that he believed methadone clinics
perpetuate addiction. He said he thought that moving the methadone
clinic would concentrate the problems of all of Camden County in an
area of the city that has struggled for years to remake itself.

In the meantime, Brown and Cyndi will keep spreading the

"We're going to tell everyone," they said in unison as they walked off
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