Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama and needle exchange

FYI - work has begun to lift the USG ban on federal funding for needle exchange. See article below for details.


Obama's HIV Fix: Syringe Exchange Is a Major Component
By Allan Clear, AlterNet
Posted on January 17, 2009, Printed on January 17, 2009
What if we had a mechanism that stopped the spread of HIV that experts had speculated would work even before the cause of AIDS had been identified and that subsequent scientific enquiry confirmed was effective? We do, that mechanism is syringe exchange.

What if we had national governments dating back to President Ronald Reagan that knew what worked and yet fought against it, lied to the public, bullied local governments and generally saw the spread of HIV as justified, purely because the population that was affected was drug users, and drug use is addressed in the United States by making it as dangerous as possible?

What if men, women and children had been needlessly infected with HIV purely to teach them the "evil of their ways?" And what if we knew that the majority of these people were African American or Latino? Sadly, this is an exact description of the political response to syringe exchange and to the HIV epidemic among injection-drug users in the United States.

A ban on syringe exchange has existed in the United States since 1988, when Congress prohibited funding to support syringe exchange. In order to overturn the ban, it had been incumbent on the surgeon general to determine that syringe exchange prevents the spread of HIV and does not increase drug use. Evidence to support these conditions has been met repeatedly.

In 1998, under President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala certified scientific evidence in support of syringe exchange as a valid public-health intervention, however Clinton did not act to have the ban lifted. The irony is that because of the ban, syringe-exchange research exists in abundance, and it is irrefutable that it is an effective means to stop the spread of HIV.

Not only is syringe exchange effective in halting the transmission of HIV, evidence from New York demonstrates that hepatitis C (HCV) transmission rates among injection-drug users can also be significantly lowered. The incidence of HCV infection among drug injectors has begun to drop from 80 percent to below 40 percent among newer injectors.

Harm-reduction services, such as syringe exchange, promote the prevention of HCV, as well as make medical treatment and social services more readily available to people who are living with HCV. The maintenance of the ban on syringe exchange callously excludes drug users from receiving essential prevention-and-intervention services and carries a symbolic dimension that delegitimizes syringe exchange and undermines public health advocacy efforts.

Regardless of how one might feel about drug users, syringe exchange is effective, is essential and there is momentum for change.

During the recent presidential campaign, each of the Democratic candidates endorsed removing the federal ban during their term in office. One of the candidates was elected president, and another was appointed secretary of state. President-elect Barack Obama's HIV platform says he will "support legislation that would lift the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange as a strategy to reduce HIV transmission among injection-drug users and their partners and children." On Jan. 6, 2009, Bronx Democratic Congressman Jose Serrano, along with 28 sponsors, introduced into Congress a bill -- HR 179, the Community AIDS and Hepatitis Prevention Act of 2009 -- to lift the ban.

The time to act is now. We need to call and to write our congressional members. We need to insist that the United States joins the rank of syringe-exchange-enlightened countries such as Australia, Holland, Canada, the U.K., Iran (yes, Iran), Moldova, and others. The damage that has been wreaked over the last 20 years cannot be undone, but a new direction can be forged. It is imperative that we participate in cultivating a new course of action and participate in the righting of wrongs.

Help lift the federal ban on the funding of syringe exchange.

Allan Clear is the executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Useful web resources on IDU

Exchange Supplies have just launched our own YouTube channel, currently showing 5 videos, including one showing the latest research on the effectiveness of syringe cleaning with bleach, and one for injectors showing how to clean a used syringe

Go to:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thailand Harm Reduction Conference update

Please see update from the conference organizers, below.

Looking forward to seeing some of you in Bangkok in April!


In December 2008, the Executive Programme Committee for Harm Reduction 2009 met in Bangkok and London to create the conference programme and review around 900 submitted abstracts from all over the world. The result is another high quality, comprehensive programme containing keynote speeches and a range of different sessions to appeal to, and cater for, all of our delegates.

A draft programme is now available to download at There are many highlights, including:

A Plenary Session on drug use and HIV in Asia – including a presentation from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover.
A Plenary Session on ‘Harm Reduction and Human Rights’ (the conference theme) – including a presentation from UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak.
A Plenary Session on ‘Methamphetamines’ – organised on the back of the successful 1st Global Methamphetamine Conference in 2008.
15 Major Sessions (more than in the previous IHRA conferences) – covering topics such as ‘Harm Reduction in Thailand’, coercive treatment, young people, research, drinking patterns in Asia, law enforcement, sex work and drug policy reform.
36 Concurrent Sessions covering our largest ever range of topics – from human rights to hepatitis, tobacco to prisons, peer-driven approaches to conflict zones!

There is around one week left for delegates to register and take advantage of the ‘Early Bird’ discounts – which offer a saving of up to £100. In order to qualify for this discount, delegates are asked to register online and make their payment before Wednesday 21st January 2009. This represents an ideal opportunity for delegates to obtain the best value registration fee – especially given the recent fall in value of the GBP (£) against most major currencies. Delegates are strongly advised to visit and make the most of this opportunity!

See you in Bangkok!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Syringe Gap

The following new article has just been published in Harm Reduction Journal

The syringe gap: an assessment of sterile syringe need and acquisition among syringe exchange program participants in New York City

Heller D, Paone D, Siegler A, Karpati A
Harm Reduction Journal, 2009 6:1 (12 January 2009)

Full article at:

Abstract (provisional)


Programmatic data from New York City syringe exchange programs suggest that many clients visit the programs infrequently and take few syringes per transaction, while separate survey data from individuals using these programs indicate that frequent injecting - at least daily - is common. Together, these data suggest a possible "syringe gap" between the number of injections performed by users and the number of syringes they are receiving from programs for those injections. Methods: We surveyed a convenience sample of 478 injecting drug users in New York City at syringe exchange programs to determine whether program syringe coverage was adequate to support safer injecting practices in this group. Results: Respondents reported injecting a median of 60 times per month, visiting the syringe exchange program a median of 4 times per month, and obtaining a median of 10 syringes per transaction; more than one in four reported reusing syringes. Fifty-four percent of participants reported receiving fewer syringes than their number of injections per month. Receiving an inadequate number of syringes was more frequently reported by younger and homeless injectors, and by those who reported public injecting in the past month. Conclusions: To improve syringe coverage and reduce syringe sharing, programs should target younger and homeless drug users, adopt non-restrictive syringe uptake policies, and establish better relationships with law enforcement and homeless services. The potential for safe injecting facilities should be explored, to address the prevalence of public injecting and resolve the 'syringe gap' for injecting drug users.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Protecting our outreach staff

A thought provoking article on drug use among harm reduction outreach staff, below - an issue we should all be thinking about.


JANUARY 9, 2009, 9:21 P.M. ET Heroin Program's Deadly Toll
Needle Exchanges Save Lives but May Imperil Workers
SAN FRANCISCO -- Pete Morse devoted his life to saving the lives of heroin users. A dreadlocked community activist with a Ph.D in history, he bore a tattoo that read: "Injury to one is an injury to all."
So his friends and colleagues were shocked when he was found unconscious in 2007 on a bathroom floor with a needle by his side. Doctors pronounced the 36-year-old Mr. Morse dead from an overdose of heroin, alcohol and cocaine.
Mr. Morse spent more than 10 years working in drug-addiction programs that follow the principle of harm reduction. This philosophy argues that the best way to save users' lives isn't to force them off illegal drugs. Instead, its adherents teach safer ways to use drugs -- supplying clean needles to prevent the spread of disease, for example, or teaching how to avoid overdosing. The programs are credited with saving lives in cities across the U.S.

Friends and family say Pete Morse tried heroin after working at exchanges.
But harm-reduction leaders have struggled to address a sometimes-lethal issue: dangerous drug use by the very workers who are supposed to help users. In the circles of New York and San Francisco where Mr. Morse worked, at least five harm-reduction staffers have died of overdoses. These included needle-exchange founders in both cities, as well as psychologist John Watters, a needle-exchange advocate who started a study to track how outreach programs benefited drug users. Mr. Watters died from an opiate overdose in 1995.
Worker drug abuse is "a huge problem," says Jon Zibbell, the founder of a Massachusetts drug users' coalition who is now an assistant professor at Skidmore College. "We prevent [overdoses] among our clients," he says. "So we should try to prevent them among our workers."
Studies suggest that needle exchanges work. In San Francisco, Chicago and New Mexico, heroin-related deaths dropped after users were taught how to administer an anti-overdose medication to each other. In New York City, the rate of new HIV infections among injection-drug users dropped more than 75% between 1995 and 2002 as the number of clean needles distributed doubled, according to a study by epidemiologists there.
How Needle-Exchange Programs Work

Needle-exchange programs, like those in San Francisco, can help reduce HIV infections and drug overdoses, WSJ's Bobby White reports. But while federal funding for such programs has grown in recent years, they still face many challenges.
Yet needle-exchange programs can exact a toll on those who operate them. Staffers typically earn little or no money for working on bleak urban front lines with traumatized users. Programs tend to be run on the cheap, often giving little of the training and support that are standard for other social-service workers. Those dealing with other factors -- depression, history of drug use or personal stresses -- may find it particularly hard to cope. Drug abuse is "an occupational hazard," says Alex Kral, a San Francisco epidemiologist who oversees the study Dr. Watters started.
Many exchanges hire workers who are active or former users. Other volunteers, however, have had no exposure to hard drugs before entering the field. Friends and family of Mr. Morse say they believe he learned to shoot heroin years after he first worked in a needle exchange.
Mr. Morse's family members say they don't blame harm-reduction programs for his heroin use. Mr. Morse suffered from depression, they say, and accidentally overdosed shortly after he learned that a family member had been diagnosed with a grave illness.
Some needle-exchange advocates say it would be unfair to pin his and other deaths on an approach that they say saves lives. The fatalities, these people say, represent a small portion of the field's workers. They argue that drug overdoses also occur among the staff members of abstinence programs, the other main branch of drug outreach, which also often hires former users. There are no statistics that compare overdose rates of workers in the two types of programs.
Those who do believe that the needle-exchange deaths are a problem propose two broad solutions. Critics say exchanges that countenance illegal drug use should be reined in. Supporters say that if anything, the programs should receive more funding, in part to better train and support their workers.
State and local government funding for needle exchanges tripled in 2007, to $14 million, compared with 1996. That's minuscule compared with the $1.75 billion that Congress gave states last year for conventional drug-treatment programs. President-elect Barack Obama said in 2007 that he may be willing to lift a ban on federal funding for needle exchanges. A bill now in the House of Representatives would free federal money for exchanges nationwide.
Busy Studying
Pete Morse was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. On an otherwise conservative block of the affluent Detroit suburb, he grew up listening to Peter, Paul & Mary, according to his mother, Patty Morse. He excelled in school.
At DePauw University in Indiana, the lanky, 6'1" Mr. Morse ran on the varsity cross-country team and volunteered with a Red Cross HIV prevention project, his mother said. He seemed too busy running, studying or attending political rallies to drink or smoke much pot, recalls Vince Guimont, a fraternity brother who shared a room with Mr. Morse for three years. "He was always the person who had it together," Mr. Guimont says.
After graduating in 1992, Mr. Morse spent the year hiking in New Mexico, says his father, Pete Morse Sr. He also volunteered for the first time at a needle exchange. But soon he went back to school, beginning work on a doctoral degree, on the history of U.S. labor and social movements, at State University of New York at Binghamton. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies. His tattoo -- "injury to one is an injury to all" -- is an IWW slogan.
In 1996, his master's degree completed, he moved to New York City.
New York was in the throes of an AIDS crisis, and intravenous drug use was a prime pathway of transmission. AIDS activists believed they wouldn't have much success getting users to quit, but they thought they could slow the disease's spread by allowing users to trade their shared needles for a supply of clean ones.
New York City legalized some needle exchanges in 1992. Public support for the programs grew throughout the decade. "We stepped to the plate," says Jason Farrell, who in the early 1990s co-founded a Manhattan needle exchange where Mr. Morse volunteered.
As exchanges spread, New York's incidence of HIV among injection-drug users dropped. In the three-year period ending in 1995, 44% of New York's intravenous-drug users were HIV-positive. By the four-year period ending in 2002, the infection rate among the population had fallen to 17%, according to a study by Don Des Jarlais, a doctor at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center.
But there were casualties among workers. In 1996, Brian Weil, who founded two New York syringe exchanges, suffered a fatal opiate overdose, according to the New York city medical examiner's office. Three years later, Angela Daigle, who worked at both exchanges with Mr. Morse and started a women's clinic at the Lower East Side exchange, also died from an opiate overdose, according to the medical examiner.
Mr. Farrell says he and many of the other grassroots activists who founded exchanges spent their limited funds on supplies and direct services. Their workers were often encouraged to put in long hours with little professional training. Some volunteers were ill-equipped to deal with the burnout.
"There were a lot of shortcomings in management skills in a lot of folks, including myself," said Mr. Farrell. "A lot of us got into this not to run big organizations, but to address a public-health issue."
Heroin, long considered an outsider drug, was enjoying a mainstream moment. With South American traffickers increasing imports, heroin became cheaper and more widely available. Fashion designers used pale, bony models to popularize "heroin chic." Mr. Farrell says the late 1990s brought an influx of volunteers who were "well-schooled, white, upper-middle-class kids that tend to romanticize and be infatuated with the heroin lifestyle."
'OK to Use Heroin'
Even after seeing overdoses among clients and peers, some volunteers began using hard drugs. Without proper training, Mr. Farrell says, those charged with teaching safer drug use sometimes "misinterpret that to think, 'It's OK to use heroin.'"
It's unclear when Mr. Morse first tried heroin. Writing years later on a blog he kept, Mr. Morse said he had been shooting amphetamines while living in New York.
His younger sister, Carrie Morse, remembers when he told her that he was using heroin. It was in 2000, Ms. Morse says, and her brother was suffering "horrible depression," using the drug to self-medicate. "I was scared that something would happen to him," she says.
View Full Image

Clean needles reduce disease among drug users.
That year, Mr. Morse moved to California, following his longtime girlfriend, who'd moved the year before. He saw a therapist and took antidepressants, and continued working on his doctoral thesis. His family says his heroin use stopped.
In 2000, the San Francisco health department adopted harm reduction as a guiding principle. Mr. Morse continued his work on needle exchanges, sometimes volunteering at one in San Francisco's Tenderloin district, in a fetid alley behind a bar.
Volunteers like Mr. Morse set up tables there once a week to offer syringes, first-aid kits and clean supplies like metal cups for cooking heroin. They showed how to inject safely and instructed people who wanted to quit how to access rehab.
Carrie Morse recalls asking her brother if this tempted him to use. He told her that he needed to keep his head about him to help others, and that his clients' situation reminded him of drug use's negative effects. Mr. Morse said "it was his work in the harm-reduction field that kept him from using heroin," his sister recalls.
Program managers don't take a unified approach to staff drug use. Hilary McQuie, a San Francisco harm-reduction training administrator who was Mr. Morse's last boss, says her organization trains workers to develop a "personalized burnout prevention plan" that includes taking time off work and doing a "self assessment" of whether their own drug use is harmful.
Because harm-reduction programs don't force their clients to quit, making employees do so would be "completely hypocritical," said Ms. McQuie, the West Coast director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, a New York-based nonprofit that trains workers to run needle exchanges and other harm-reduction programs. She and others in the field say drug use also is a problem among workers in abstinence-based organizations, which require workers who use drugs to enter rehab or leave their jobs.
Others believe that workers need more support services, including access to therapy. San Francisco epidemiologist Dr. Kral, who sits on Ms. McQuie's board, has for more than a decade paid a social worker to conduct monthly group therapy for workers on his drug-user study.
Drugs continued to take a toll on Mr. Morse's peers. In 2002, Urban Poole, an ex-convict who provided drug counseling for prisoners and worked for San Francisco's Health Department, died of an overdose. Three months later, Matthew McLeod, a local needle-exchange pioneer and a musician known as Matty Luv, suffered a fatal opiate overdose, according to a report by the San Francisco Medical Examiner. Mr. McLeod had told people, including an interviewer from a punk music publication, that he hadn't used heroin until he started the San Francisco Needle Exchange in 1997.
Mr. McLeod's death shook Mr. Morse. He and a friend, a former heroin user, discussed their own responsibilities and loved ones, and agreed they didn't want to risk a similar fate.
Still, Mr. Morse never stopped identifying as a user. In counseling with clients, the tattooed and dreadlocked Mr. Morse listened silently and, based on his own use and drug knowledge, explained how certain prescription drugs interact with heroin, recalls Kirk Read, who worked with Mr. Morse gathering data for a drug-user study for the University of California. "Your authority with clients is sometimes measured by how much you've lived," Mr. Read says.
Stopping Overdoses
By 2003, needle exchanges had steady funding in San Francisco. Harm-reduction advocates began expanding their scope. Mr. Morse worked on the San Francisco health department's new Drug Overdose Prevention and Education, or DOPE, project, training users to administer naloxone, which cancels out the effects of an opiate overdose.
Participants in the naloxone program reported stopping almost 150 near-fatal overdoses over the next three years, says Josh Bamberger, San Francisco's homeless-outreach coordinator, who ran the program. Opiate-related fatalities in San Francisco dropped almost 50% from 2003 to 2005.
Mr. Morse stayed with DOPE after the Harm Reduction Coalition took it over, with the help of city funding, in 2005. He started working full time for the Harm Reduction Coalition the following year, providing assistance to needle exchanges around the state.
By late 2006, Mr. Morse had also joined San Francisco's HIV Prevention and Planning Council, and the board of San Francisco's Homeless Youth Alliance, which runs a needle exchange. He finished his Ph.D dissertation on the Wobblies.
Though his professional life bloomed in the last years of his life, his depression was sometimes deep, his family says. His paperwork-heavy job left him unsatisfied, his sister said. He was also jarred by the death of his cat, who had nestled on his lap as he wrote his thesis. He had its name, Otter, tattooed on his left biceps.
Then, three days before Christmas in 2006, his sister was diagnosed with cancer. Carrie Morse says her brother was despondent. "Other people's pain was Pete's pain," said Ms. Morse, who works in the public-relations department of The Washington Post. The two spoke daily for the next three weeks, she says.
Shortly before his sister's cancer surgery, late on the night of Jan. 12, 2007, Mr. Morse ended up drunk at a friend's house in San Francisco's Mission District. He went to use the bathroom. The friend discovered Mr. Morse unconscious on the floor, according to the medical examiner's report. He was declared dead at 4:31 the next morning.
An autopsy found scar tissue on Mr. Morse's arm, and a needle puncture in the crook of his elbow. The medical examiner said his death was accidental and attributed it to alcohol, heroin and cocaine in his system.
More than 300 mourners attended the funeral. Many paraded down a palm-lined stretch of San Francisco's Market Street with drums and a five-foot-tall photo of Mr. Morse.
Mr. Morse's parents blame his heroin use that night on his decision to drink too much as he despaired over his sister's illness. They say they're proud of their son's efforts to bring harm reduction into the mainstream.
Since her cancer treatment, Carrie Morse has been volunteering at Prevention Works, a needle exchange in Washington, D.C. Such programs, she says, "save lives."
Mr. Morse's coworker, Mr. Read, learned another lesson from his friend's death. "It punctured the illusion that knowledge can protect you," he says.
Write to Justin Scheck at

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle

UNODC has just published the second volume of "De Narcoticis"; a series of photojournalism books depicting the lives of real people involved in - or touched by - the trade in illicit drugs.

Details and short video below.

Drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle
SHARE Digg It Facebook reddit Stumble It! TwitThis6 January 2009 - UNODC has just published the second volume of "De Narcoticis"; a series of photojournalism books depicting the lives of real people involved in - or touched by - the trade in illicit drugs.

This second volume takes as its canvas the area which has come to be known as the Golden Triangle; the part of South East Asia encompassing Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The first volume focused on Colombia. UNODC has been active here for many years, with much success. The area now produces only 5 per cent of the world's opiates (down from over 70 per cent some 30 years ago) and UNODC has been influential in bringing local governments together in a common fight against the drug trade.

The book is produced by award-winning photographer, journalist and UNODC goodwill ambassador, Alessandro Scotti. Scotti says that the "de Narcoticis" project "gives a face to the protagonists of this world. It's an underworld which has been examined closely enough to give us plenty of figures and statistics, but which is less known for its personal stories".

The stories in the book are varied: it does not judge any of the characters involved, and there are many. They range from enforcement officers to traffickers, plantation workers to addicts in treatment centres; people united only by the fact that they all occupy some small part of the long drug trafficking chain.

These small links in the chain are a theme to which Scotti returns regularly. "The people involved in trafficking have only a very partial perception of the overall phenomenon, and yet their lives are powerfully affected by it. They are simple people with a limited perception of the impact of their actions. Most are in any case tied to the 'job' for their very survival; desperate people with otherwise limited life chances or opportunities."

Scotti says this is why he believes UNODC's work beyond enforcement is so important. "UNODC offers a holistic approach including development strategies which allow alternative businesses to grow and become sustainable. A stronger economic and social framework leads to a different balance."

The book is designed to do more than tell stories through photography, though: it elicits a powerful response in the reader. As UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa says, it "challenges us to respond".

Hep C and IDU

Welcome to 2009, loyal subscribers!

Interesting news story, below, on the rise of Hep C among IDUs, and the role of NSP to turn the tide. The story is about the UK, but this issue is global.

Happy New Year!

A dose of realityAn increase in cases of hepatitis C among injecting drug users has led to calls to reverse the dramatic fall in needle exchangesDiane Taylor The Guardian, Wednesday 7 January 2009 Article historyIn terms of its public profile, hepatitis C is a poor relation of the HIV virus. However, an estimated 170 million people worldwide are infected with the blood-borne virus, and many of them have no idea they are walking around with it until years or even decades later. Twenty years after becoming infected, one in six people develop serious liver damage; after 30 years, the figure is nearly a quarter.

New figures published by the Health Protection Agency show that there has been an increase in hepatitis C among injecting drug users. In the late 1990s, a fifth of injectors became infected within three years of starting to inject, but now around 50% of injectors have the virus.

Because the virus is able to survive outside the body for longer than HIV, it is relatively easy to become infected with it, and the main route of transmission in this country is among drug users who share injection paraphernalia.

It is with this group that the most effective harm reduction work can be done and the Department of Health, the National Treatment Agency and Exchange Supplies have launched a campaign urging drug users not to share injecting equipment.

However, Sara McGrail, an independent drug policy specialist, is concerned about a dramatic fall in the number of needle exchanges. She says: "I'd like to see more of these needle exchanges, and they should offer extended access and support. At the moment, a lot of needle exchanges are open only from 9am to 5pm.

"Harm reduction is mentioned only once in the new drugs strategy, and this is a real missed opportunity. For the last 10 years, the government has pursued a policy of trying to reduce demand for drugs. What we need is pragmatic harm reduction, because access to clean needles saves lives."

David MacKintosh, policy adviser to the London Drug Policy Forum, says that one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus among drug users is to reach people when they first start injecting. "We need to go back to what we used to do, with more outreach to drug users, including better education and more needle exchange programmes," he says.

It was Margaret Thatcher's government that pioneered the use of needle exchanges and other harm reduction measures to prevent an epidemic of HIV among drug users in the 1980s. The policy was extremely effective, and when hepatitis C emerged as another threat, the distribution of clean needles helped to curb the spread of this virus.

Erin O'Mara, editor of Black Poppy, the health and lifestyle magazine for drug users, believes peer education could go a long way toward reducing the spread of hepatitis C. "People who sit in crack houses and those under 18 may be under the radar of drugs services," she says. "Peer educators who are also sitting in those crack houses or in drug users' kitchens can get those safety messages across."

While hepatitis C is a potentially fatal condition that is on the increase, Graham Foster, professor of hepatology at Queen Mary, University of London, sounds a note of optimism. The condition, he points out, is usually treatable with a drug regime and, even at a cost of several thousand pounds, is much more cost effective than caring for someone with liver failure.

"Things are getting a little better," Foster says. "Barriers to treatment are coming down, although we've still got a long way to go. We haven't jumped forward, but we are certainly inching forward ."