Hooked: Helping those who use

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND)- Since 2011, the Phoenix Center in Springfield has offered clean needles and other supplies through a syringe exchange program called the Springfield Harm Reduction Initiative.

The goal: to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

“We do know that we have people coming from over 60 counties,” said executive director Jonna Cooley. “Because we’re one of only two programs in this part of the state, people drive significant distances to get the services and get the naloxone.”

On a recent visit to the center, WAND spoke with a client about her experience.

The client, named Ann, began using other drugs with her then-husband and others.

“We used to always get high together,” Ann said. “We tried anything and everything. The biggest thing about that was that we never got stuck on just one thing.”

As time went on, Ann lost two friends to overdose. She remembers looking for ways to cope with the pain.

“Next thing I know, I started doing heroin a little bit more, and that little bit more took my life from everybody,” Ann said. “I guess the reason why the heroin stuck more than anything is, like drinking, it takes that pain away. It makes you stop thinking about all the craziness.”

Ann said she tried medical detox for her heroin use. She also remembers one short stay in jail.

“(When I got out) they told me ‘Don’t go back and use. You’re six days clean.’ And the first thing I did was go out and get high as soon as I get out because I’m so sick and I can barely walk,” Ann said. “I thought I’d be able to cold-turkey it, and I might have for a couple weeks or a couple days, then all of a sudden: ‘Oh, I’ll just do it one more time.’”

Still, Ann said the supplies she receives from the Phoenix Center have been life-saving.

“The Narcan … is the best life-saver in the world,” Ann said, of the anti-overdose drug Phoenix provides. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to use it. It’s beyond amazing.”

Cooley said many clients say they became addicted to opioid drugs after being prescribed painkillers. She says those clients sometimes seek help to quit.

“A lot of people who are using opioids would like to stop using, so sometimes they’ll ask for referrals for treatment, but it’s just so hard right now to get people in, because there’s not a lot of drug treatment facilities,” Cooley said.

The harm reduction program is part of a research project conducted by the Chicago Recovery Alliance.

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