Harm reduction offers hope in increments

By ERIC A. HOWALD Of the Keizertimes Chris Gray is in the business of starting conversations with injection drug users. “Once someone engages you and says, ‘I want to use a clean needle,’ that’s the beginning of some sort of contemplation,” said Gray, harm reduction outreach specialist for the Benton County Health Department. The Benton County harm reduction program is one of the nearest harm reduction and needle exchange programs to Keizer. Marion County offers no such service and calls and e-mails for comment on the current status of the local conversation went unreturned. However, such programs are proven in their effectiveness when it comes to not only weaning drug abusers off their habits, but containing outbreaks of potentially lethal diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV. Earlier this year, Austin, Indiana, was the epicenter of one such outbreak – nearly 150 cases of HIV were diagnosed in a short span of time  after widespread needle-sharing was uncovered. Benton County’s program offers a 24/7 needle drop box, a decentralized network of secondary needle exchange nodes, rapid HIV and Hep C testing, access to Hepatitis A and B vaccinations and can even hook up users with detoxification centers and provide transport. All of it is free of cost to those in need and the supplies only set the county general fund back about $38,000 per year. “There’s additional outreach prevention...

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