The program that has been under intense criticism over the past months for the proliferation of needles throughout the Silk City — rendering one city park inaccessible for a short period of time – will no longer operate as a “needle access” but as a “needle exchange” program, according to Jerome King, head of the Well of Hope.
King made the change effective Monday afternoon. “I gave the word today to my staff to do that,” he said. This change means drug users and addicts, who seek out clean needles from the Well of Hope on Broadway, will have to bring in dirty needles in order to secure clean ones.
“That’s awesome,” said Roger Grier, a community activist, who has been criticizing the program for unloading large number of needles into the community. He pointed to Barbour Park which was filled with needles.
City activist Victoria Oquendo was skeptical of the change. She said she will closely monitor the individuals who walk into the Well of Hope for needles to ensure King’s organization is running an “exchange” program rather than handing out needles.
The program distributes 300,000 needles a year, said King on Monday afternoon on the sidelines of the drug policy advisory committee meeting convened by Passaic County freeholder Theodore “TJ” Best at the county administration building.
King said his program sees 700 to 800 new clients every year. Best’s meeting was intended to be a blame free meeting; however, King received a good deal of blame for giving out free needles to drug addicts, who discard them in school grounds, parks, and sidewalks, in front of more than 60 important government and nonprofit leaders.
“These needles. You got to do something about it. You got to stop,” said community improvement director David Gilmore at the meeting.
Although activists blame his program for the ubiquity of needles in the city, there are other avenues addicts can take to obtain syringes. King said needles are cheap at places like Walgreens and local pharmacies.
Grier recognized the switch will not entirely eliminate needles, but saw it as a positive step.
King worries the change can lead to some addicts opting to share used needles, which would spread diseases like HIV, rather than collect and exchange for new ones. He said it’s also difficult for addicts to carry needles and bring them to the Well of Hope because police will often intervene and force them to discard them.
His program has a deposit box outside that encourages users to return needles, but less than half of the needles dispensed are returned.
“We have a 40-percent return rate,” said King. He said the best way to rid the city of needles is to have supervised injection sites where addicts can shoot up drugs.