April 23, 2009
Jimi Reinke, who twice-weekly distributes sterile syringes to injecting drug users in Rock County, said he has noticed a change in the age of his clients: They used to be much older.
"Then two years ago, I connected with these kids in Janesville," Reinke said. "There's so many of them who are 17 to 22. It's like, if you know a 20-year-old in Janesville, they know someone who shoots heroin."
A trend toward younger users is also being seen in other Wisconsin cities, said Scott Stokes, public affairs director for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. ARCW operates the Lifepoint Needle Exchange, for which Reinke works.
Reinke estimates he gives out more than 40,000 needles a year in Rock County. The operation also distributes pamphlets on disease prevention and how to seek help for addiction, along with clean drug-preparation paraphernalia to help prevent the spread of blood-borne infections. Though Reinke said he will encourage those users receptive to the idea to seek treatment, he notes that such care is often hard to find and pay for.
When Reinke hits the streets, he is also armed with Narcan, a drug that can help save a person who is overdosing on heroin. He said he has trained more than 200 people to administer Narcan, and he has heard of 224 instances of its being used in the two-and-a-half years he has been distributing it. He added, however, that some users have told their comrades never to inject them with Narcan, because it counteracts the heroin high and triggers withdrawal.
Reinke said that while the law considers a used needle to be drug paraphernalia, clean needles are legal, creating an additional incentive for users to use the service.
According to Stokes, the region served by Lifepoint has seen a 67 percent decline in new drug-related HIV infections since the program began.