MORGANTOWN — Jane’s arms, legs and stomach are bruised and scarred from her Suboxone injections. She glances appreciatively at a handful of baby carrots and celery, and a blob of ranch dressing, sitting on a tiny Styrofoam plate – perhaps her only meal of the day. Jane is at Milan Puskar Health Right for her regular Wednesday visit to the needle exchange program, called LIGHT — Living In Good Health Together. It’s a special Wednesday: a birthday celebration of the program’s launch a year ago.
It’s a program Jane (Health Right preserves the confidentiality of program clients; we’re calling her Jane for this story) helped conceive and one that has succeeded far beyond expectations.
Health Right began LIGHT last year for several purposes, Executive Director Laura Jones explained. In part, it’s a “harm reduction” program — a way to curb the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C through the use of shared needles. It’s also a way to provide the users with basic medical screenings and care, and to steer them to treatment if they’re willing.
When they created LIGHT, they expected to see 75 people during the first year. Instead, they’ve seen 360 — about 30 to 40 a week — all by word of mouth. That’s 360 individuals; it doesn’t count return visits.