Atlantic City effort succeeding in getting clean needles to IV drug users, but not doing as well at getting addicts into rehabilitation
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — New Jersey’s first needle exchange program is showing mixed results, succeeding in distributing clean needles but not doing as well in terms of getting drug addicts into rehab.
Atlantic City’s program started in November 2007 as a three-year test to see if giving drug users clean needles could slow the spread of HIV and hepatitis.
The Press of Atlantic City reports that the resort city dispensed far more clean needles than similar programs in Camden, Paterson and Newark.
Atlantic City gave out 60,001 needles between the start of the program and Jan. 5.
"Word of mouth is obviously working," said Ronald Cash, the city’s director of Health and Human Services.
But the program is struggling to refer addicted clients to drug treatment. According to state statistics, Atlantic City ranked last among the four programs in drug referrals, with just 74 as of Dec. 21.
Therese Wilkerson, a co-coordinator of the city’s program, said guiding their clients into treatment is hard to do; counselors must try to coax clients toward help without pushing so hard that they scare them away.
"I wish we could do better, but we can’t push it on them," she said.
The pilot program recently added a housing component, designed to place addicts in low-income housing.
Some participants are responsible for paying partial rent. If they are employed, they must contribute 30 percent of their income.
The housing project is a response to studies that show drug users with stable housing are more likely to get off drugs and become more stable citizens.
The program received 31 vouchers from the state, which house 15 people who are currently in drug treatment and 16 people who are not in treatment.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2009.