Efforts to offer needle exchange and other “harm reduction” services to addicts in Ulster County are stalled, organizers say, because they can’t find anybody willing to take on the demanding job of on-the-ground outreach to the area’s population of intravenous drug users.
Hudson Valley Community Services is a non-profit group dedicated to battling chronic health issues among underserved populations in seven Mid-Hudson counties. Among their programs is a mobile needle exchange and addict outreach program currently operating in Dutchess and Orange counties. Using a mobile clinic, the group travels to areas with high concentrations of IV drug users to offer clean needles, HIV and hepatitis C Raleigh STD testing and referrals to rehabilitation and other health services for those who want them. Last year, at the urging of state health officials, the group began laying the groundwork for an expansion of the program into Ulster and Sullivan counties.
Hudson Valley Community Services Director of Education and Prevention Mary Brewster said this week the group had obtained state approval, purchased and outfitted a new van and vetted sites for outreach efforts in Ulster and Sullivan. Brewster said that everything has been in place for about a month, but the plan has faltered because the agency has been unable to find anyone to take on the job of running the new program.
“I think there’s some stigma around needle exchange and [addicts] are a stigmatized population,” said Brewster. “I also think there’s just a smaller pool of applicants here and a wealth of social-service agencies who are looking for people with similar qualifications.”
The job pays an entry-level rate of $35,000 with a$1,500 bonus for bilingual Spanish speakers. Brewster said the agency is looking for someone with the right mix of education in human services, experience with drug users and, ideally, familiarity with harm reduction principles. Harm reduction differs from the traditional abstinence model in that it seeks to provide a range of services to help addicts stay as healthy and functional as possible, even as they continue to use drugs. The approach’s advocates say that their efforts lessen the negative impacts of drug use on addicts and the community at large by cutting rates of overdose and disease while offering drug users a point of contact where they can obtain counseling and other services.
“It’s really about finding somebody with the right personality who’s willing to do this kind of work,” said Jay Dewey, HVCS’ public relations director. “It’s working with people who are really in a place of need, who need a lot of help, but are not able to advocate for themselves.”