A group of recovering drug addicts is trying to help slow the spread of AIDS in Baltimore with a plan to go into city neighborhoods to pick up used needles and syringes.
The plan was unveiled yesterday by city health officials and All of Us Helping Us, a group of drug addicts who have tested positive for HIV, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
"No one has taken an effort to slow down HIV by cleaning up syringes," said Troy McMillion, head of All of Us Helping Us. "If there was a situation where children are playing and abandoned houses are serving as shooting galleries, we'd go in and clean up the houses."
The plan is to provide waste containers in high drug-use areas so addicts can properly dispose of their used syringes and needles. Volunteers will then go into the neighborhoods to pick up the containers and sweep away other paraphernalia strewn in abandoned houses, playgrounds and alleys.
Planners hope the spread of AIDS will slow when addicts have no access to used needles and syringes, which may pass the virus from one user to the next.
"There were times when I needed a syringe or something, [and] there was always a place where I would find a used syringe," said Mr. McMillion, who said he tested positive for HIV in 1987 after years of drug abuse. "If there was no clean syringe available, I'd do whatever I needed to do to get drugs in me."
When drug users are ready to shoot up, they often don't care about what they use, Mr. McMillion said, adding: "When it's a physical or emotional need that needs to be fulfilled, the vehicle we have used is not the most important issue."
What is unique about the plan, its backers say, is the educational component. They say they'll hold community forums to inform drug users, residents and children about the program and AIDS.
All of Us Helping Us members -- who'll be trained in proper handling and disposing techniques -- will initially go into the neighborhoods twice monthly.
Baltimore-based Med Net Co. will provide medical waste containers that will be used to store used syringes and needles, and the city's health department will chip in by providing a clean-up crew to help take them away.
Donald T. Torres, a city environmental health commissioner, said the city has in the past tried to rid neighborhoods of drug paraphernalia, but "the problem is very widespread. It far exceeds our office's ability to respond to the needs."
The program starts in two weeks, when members go into their first neighborhood -- near Pennsylvania and Gold streets in West Baltimore -- to inform residents about the program, Mr. McMillion said.
The program gets no money from the city, but Brenda Pridgen, the city's AIDS coordinator, said she is looking into various grants and foundations to pay for the program. She said the program is cost-effective already because it relies on volunteers to clean up the needles and educate residents.
Jeffrey Block of the mayor's AIDS Coordinating Committee, called on the city to institute a needle exchange program to help slow down the spread of HIV. "We think this project will lead to an atmosphere more conducive to a needle exchange program, which we really need," he said.