On Lower East Side on Manhattan the needle exchange program is a campagne
against HIV and Hep C.
Share love not needles it says on her T-shirt. When I ask Jennifer if she has ever done heroin, she tells me she is an addict. She participates in the LESNEP project as a volunteer. This is one of the oldest, most comprehensive and innovative exchanges in the US. I participate for the first time on the walkabout on Lower East Side on Manhattan to give away clean needles to drug users. The LESNEP office used to be a small grocery store. When I arrive most of the people seem to have something responsible to do. Some are sitting in a sofa involved in a deep discussion. A friendly woman called Cathy welcomes me and asks if I could help with filling bleach into small plastic bottles.
I put on rubber gloves and turn the tap on a plastic can which stands next to a xerox machine. The bleach is used by the users to clean used needles. In another small bottle there is destilled water to rinse the bleach from the syrenges. After a while Cathy says it´s time to go for the walkabout. There is eight of us and we carry a big bag with needles, two red plastic cans for used needles and in a backpack we have comdoms. In another bag there is the bleach, coocers and small bags with cotton balls. These are used to strain the heroine as you draw it through the needle into the syringe. The Lower East Side of Manhattan is worn out, there are several squatters and many homeless people. The first stop is on a sidewalk in front of a locked metal gate. Cathy who has the position of a leader tells us firmly to stay close to the wall and not block the sidewalk. We open our bags and I have the duty to give away condoms and the bleach. The first participants arrive in a few minutes. They are called participants, nothing else.
Three members from the group do short interviews with the participants about how many times a day they shoot, if they have had any infections and so on. The identity of the participants is protected by a code. The participants get as many needles as they need. The goal with the project is to prevent the users to be infected with HIV and Hepatis C. There are three different sizes of needles. The thinnest one is the most popular. Most of the participants get 20-40 needles. One of the women in the group gives advice to a middle aged man, with infections in his arms, on how to inject in a safe way. A young black woman wants more condomes than seems reasonable, she says she and her sister work on the street. I give a glance at Jennifer, she nodds her head and tells me to give a few more. After about half an hour all the participants have gotten their needles and comdoms for a week´s need.