Worcester, Mass., AIDS Advocates Take Needle-Exchange Programs ‘Underground’
AIDS advocates in Massachusetts have taken needle-exchange programs "underground" in communities like Worcester, where "injection drug users are prevalent, but political conditions have prevented formal programs from helping addicts," the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. Advocates in several Massachusetts communities are conducting illegal one-for-one needle exchanges with drug users in an attempt to lower the rate of HIV and other bloodborne disease infection in the population. Exchange organizers met in Worcester on Wednesday at a conference sponsored by the Boston-based AIDS Action Committee. Participants heard stories from advocates from around New England who partake in the underground exchanges, which they say are needed because users, particularly in small rural communities, don't want to "put themselves in a position that could lead to their addiction being exposed." Advocates in Worcester, who currently serve about 100 addicts, said that an additional 200 to 300 people a week could be reached through a clinic-based program. They said that without such a program, the city will continue to register "high rates" of HIV among intravenous drug users. The HIV rate among drug users in Worcester is twice the rate in Boston and Cambridge, where needle exchanges are legal.
Public Health Politics
"Political considerations" have played a role in keeping a clinic-based program from opening, according to Dr. Erik Garcia of the Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Project in Worcester. He said that the need for clean needles is "great," and exchange programs seek to promote " harm reduction," where people may not stop using drugs but they at least use clean needles. Garcia previously unsuccessfully lobbied the city council for an exchange program. He said that many in the community are "simply closed-minded" about drug use and want drug users out of the community, but do not understand that the problem is "not going away under any circumstances." Joseph McKee of the Massachusetts AIDS Policy Task Force added, "These political issues have no business in public health" (Nangle, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 3/1).