Prevention Point Philadelphia started as a group of activists offering clean syringes to drug users, after learning fifty percent of HIV infections started from shared needles.
The organization’s director, Jose Benitez, says the Syringe Exchange Program (SEP) has drastically reduced the number of new HIV infections stemming from sharing needles, as shown by the 2014 data. “If you fast forward all of that to last year’s numbers, we went from fifty percent of the cases to five percent, it pretty remarkable.”
Off the six syringe exchange sites, a van parked on the corner of 11th and Indiana streets in North Philadelphia acts as one of the sought after stations. Those registered in the program come to the mobile outreach point on Thursday afternoons. They exchange their used syringes for clean ones. “If you bring in ten used ones, we will give you ten clean ones”, says Benitez.
Participants in the syringe exchange program also have the opportunity to receive containers for their used syringes and smoking pipes.
At no cost to them, the programs seeks to cut down on sharing drug paraphernalia. The mobile unit also stocks up on medical supplies like bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointments and alcohol swabs.
While Prevention Point’s core program is syringe exchange, the organization also offers other support services to active drug users and those in recovery.
Another program includes housing opportunities. Kate Perch, the housing coordinator for Prevention Point, says “about half of the syringe exchange participants will either face homelessness or will report living in unstable housing conditions”.
“You start using more frequently you have less money you can’t pay your rent; you get arrested because of your drug use, that charge means you can’t live in your family’s public housing unit anymore”, says Perch.
Last winter Prevention Point Philadelphia operated a shelter for men, and nearly sixty people came through the doors in search of a warm place to rest their heads for the night.
Prevention Point also offers training to individual persons and groups on how to administer opioid overdose medication. Narcan (Naloxone), given through an injection or nasal spray, works by knocking opioids off brain receptors temporarily to allow an overdosed addict to resume normal breathing.
Act 139, legislated in Pennsylvania in 2014, allows first responders to administer Narcan to reverse an opioid overdose.
Elvis Rosado, the education coordinator at Prevention Point, says “it’s a good thing the drug can now be in households legally”.
When asked who comes in for their Narcan training he says, “mostly families of heroin addicts, parents, and I’ve been able to educate them and give them the Narcan so that if their child happens to overdose, they can be the first responder while they wait for the ambulance or the police to get there.”