End of needle exchange marks loss of a bulwark in D.C.'s AIDS fight
||Washington Post (DC)
||Friday, February 25, 2011
The needle exchange program is dead. Because of a drop in private donations, city budget delays and other financial woes, it will close Feb. 25.
The man goes on: "I've been coming here for, I dunno, about 10 years. What am I gonna do now?"
They screech away in the car, mouths still moving behind their dirty windows, screaming obscenities at the volunteers who will no longer be there for them.
What are we going to do now? We are the nation's HIV/AIDS capital. Our infection rate has skyrocketed to 3 percent. That's worse than some of the West African countries that have declared it an epidemic.
For 12 years, the beige RV that is the PreventionWorks rolling needle exchange program has pulled up to the curb at Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast Washington on Friday afternoons.
There's a long line along the sidewalk, and folks take turns stepping inside, shutting the metal door behind them. They are surprisingly punctual.
There are the ornery, leatherfaced, habitual drug users you would expect. They don't really want to hear about counseling or group meetings or anything like that. They're shooting their way to their graves.
But there was also a woman in a long, black cardigan, pretty jewelry and freshly done hair. She wants off drugs, she's got a wound, and she's afraid to go to the hospital.
There are other addicts like her, people who are not totally gone, who live a Jekyll-and-Hyde existence, alternating between drug chaos and a cardigan life with a job and kids.
Safely disposing of dirty needles is about protecting the kids in the park who might come across one thrown in the bushes. It's for the sanitation worker who is a husband and father and gets stuck by a tainted needle tossed in an alley trash can. And it's for the wife of a drug user who has no idea what her husband is doing behind her back, but at least he's keeping himself - and her - virus-free.
The average cost of lifetime care for someone with HIV/AIDS is about $385,200. You know who's paying that in many cases. PreventionWorks was getting about $300,000 a year from the city budget. It collapsed while waiting for $130,000 in delayed funds. (Which is roughly five years of leasing one of D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown's (D) fully loaded SUVs.)
On Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) announced a new HIV/AIDS commission with 27 members.
Those 27 members are going to have a hard time replicating the work of one beige RV.
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