Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Needle Exchange Program A Lifeline For Some | News, Sports, Jobs
Editor’s Note: Like all needle exchange programs in West Virginia, a program run by the Wheeling-Ohio County Department of Health is on uncertain ground given a new law from the Condition that strengthens the functioning and access to such efforts to contain diseases spread by intravenous drug use. . Politicians and health care providers have had a lot to say, for and against. Below is a glimpse into the world of a woman struggling with intravenous drug addiction and trying to stay alive.
WHEELING – Amy Smith could be any other mature woman in town. Short red hair, dark-rimmed glasses, a pink T-shirt with a neckline enhanced with a cord collar, sunburn on the legs.
But, it is not.
Smith (not his real name) is addicted to street drugs. And, until she cleaned up this winter after a health crisis, she was using the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department‘s needle exchange program.
Her involvement was initially about cost, she said. Street drugs are expensive. The needles are too. Her first pack – which she used to inject herself with methamphetamine 10 to 20 times a week – came from a diabetic acquaintance.
When these ran out, she turned to the needle exchange. âYou had to surrender 10 to get 10. If you had eight, you had eight. No extras.
Engaging in this type of economy quickly became a way to prevent an already difficult life from becoming even more difficult, she said. Smith fears exposure to HIV through a needle. She already contracted hepatitis C from sharing needles and will start treatment this summer.
“It scares me. I know someone who had it, who was not treated and who died”, Smith said during an interview in May at the Laughlin Memorial Chapel.
She and a small group of other women living on the outskirts of the Wheeling Company were there for a weekly respite from the street life called Blossoms.
Programs like this have been a lifeline for Smith, who suffered a heart attack and pneumonia in early winter and made the decision to go clean up.
“I’m alive. I was half dead. she said of this transition period.
That difference matters to Smith, 46, even though she has danced with death – smoking, snorting, or injecting drugs like methamphetamine and crack – for 25 years.
“My daughter is having my first grand-baby – she’s a girl,” said Smith, who has three grown children in his home state of Mississippi. âI always told them to wait until I was at least 50 years old to make me a grandmother. But, I asked them about it recently. I said, ‘I’m 50 if you round it up.’ “
Smith was planning a bus trip and a month-long stay to see his first grandchild. But, she said she intended to return to Wheeling – even though the apartment she has stayed in for the past three months will no longer be available and she will likely return to the streets.
“I like it a lot here. It’s beautiful. The people are nice. This is home to me,” Smith said he chose Mountain State regardless of his precarious residence.
She came here eight years ago to be with a man she met on the internet.
âI was clean when I moved here, but the guy I was with was an addict. He kept it a secret for a while, but that’s what he was. I started smoking crack again.
Three or four years ago she switched to methamphetamine. âI smoked it. I snorted it. Then I started to inject it. I preferred to inject myself than to smoke and snort because of the rush.
This guy was gone with her life, but she stayed in Wheeling the entire time.
âI have been in apartments. I was homeless. I am homeless now, but I live with someone. I still consider myself homeless, but I am in a shelter. I don’t sleep in the street.
Life on the streets is not easy, she noted, especially for someone struggling with drug addiction.
âI’ve seen people pull needles out of the ground outside and use them. I didn’t do it, but I saw it do it. Other times people share needles. She did that. Or, they try to clean needles that have already been used.
Knowing that disease-free needles are available has been a relief, although she hopes she will never need them again.
âIt’s like they don’t judge you. They don’t put you down or anything â, she said about the exchange. âHe has to be there because; people who use, they will continue to use.
She doesn’t want to be one of them. One leg trembles just talking about it. But, she said that “want to” is it necessary.
“I can do it on my own,” she said her access to drug rehab ran out after just one week. âYou must want to quit drugs and I want to quit drugs.
“People don’t understand” Smith said he succumbed to the drugs in the first place and now has trouble breaking free. ” Do not judge me. God can only judge me. Don’t judge someone because you’ve never been them.