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Needle Exchange program uses on-the-ground resources to prevent disease spread

Needle Exchange program uses on-the-ground resources to prevent disease spread. 4/28/17 (Christy Wilcox | KSNV)

Under the streets of Las Vegas, drug addicts using needles have a new task: exchange dirty needles for clean ones.

Six-months-ago, “Shadows of Hope” organizer Robert Hoey started the program through relationship building. He said working with drug addicts living in the underground to understand the issues they face and to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.

Clean needles are given to a select few who then hand them out to drug users when they return dirty needles. One needle ambassador says the program works.

"I know the importance of needing a clean needle as much as the next junkie," one woman said.

So far, his team comprised of medics, counselors, and other professionals have handed out 7000 clean needles. Over the span of the program, they have gotten almost half that amount returned in plastic containers. Hoey’s team also hands out questionnaires to homeless. This enables his team to collect data about drug use for homeless living near the tunnels throughout the valley.

"Dealers will collect them in coke cans and water bottles and things like that and every Friday they will give them to us," said Hoey.

Just recently, the Southern Nevada Health District started a vending machine needle exchange. The service is free with the swipe of a card and users don't have to commit to rehab. But some homeless here say they prefer the on-the-ground approach.

"A whole bunch of people who have no means of transportation… who are living a lifestyle where they don't want to be found for a reason," the woman said.

Along with needle exchange, medics and counselors also join into help. Guardian Elite Medical Services owner, Samuel Scheller helped one man who had an infection on his feet.

“By providing resources down here we can prevent a lot of the calls that come into the 9-11 system for minor issues,” said Scheller.

Scheller says they join in the “feel good Friday” effort with EMT’s and medics to provide basic first aid and assessment of homeless. They hope this helps prevent the growth of diseases. One user said these services give her hope for a future change.

"I've got a little girl, she's not here or anywhere around me-- thank God-- but one day I hope she doesn't have to grow up in a world where this is a reality for her," one drug user said.

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