February 10, 2011
PreventionWorks, a leading provider of sterile needles to injection drug users (IDUs) in Washington, will shut its doors on Feb. 25.
Michael Rhein, PreventionWorks' president, cited a drop in private donations, delays in city funding, and high executive turnover at the non-profit as factors in deciding to close. PreventionWorks distributes about one-third of the city's free needles, accounting for about 100,000 syringes provided to 2,200 people last year. It also provides HIV testing, condoms, and referrals for drug treatment.
PreventionWorks was the city's only needle-exchange provider until 2007 because of a decade-long federal ban on funding such programs. After Congress lifted the ban, the city's HIV/AIDS Administration provided $700,000 to four non-profits to distribute needles: PreventionWorks, Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), Bread for the City, and Family and Medical Counseling Services.
"They're going to be leaving a big hole in the community," said Cyndee Clay, HIPS' executive director. HIPS distributes about 50,000 needles a year and focuses most of its outreach on sex workers.
According to Rhein, PreventionWorks is often the only point of access that IDUs have to health and medical services. "We work with our clients without judgment, even though their activities may be illegal," he said. "We meet them where they're at, to improve their health."
Rhein said PreventionWorks will coordinate with the other providers to cover gaps in coverage, including turning over remaining sterile syringes upon its closure. City health department officials suggested in a Wednesday meeting that they might be able to redirect some of the money originally intended for PreventionWorks, he noted.