Stuck on Prevention

Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2004; 3:00 PM

So the man sits down, opens a rumpled Chinese takeout bag, drops two weeks' worth of used syringes in a plastic bucket. He counts off: "There goes 130, 131 . . ."

He's high today, a heroin addict for more than half his life.

". . . 132, 133 . . ."

He is 69, unemployed, homeless, divorced, his legs and right arm wrapped in pus-stained bandages.

"134, 135, 136 . . ."

Ron Daniels, looking the man in the eye, hears the last one hit. "That's 137," Daniels says. "Is that all?"

Donald, the man with 137 syringes, grunts. He's thirsty and fidgety, and asks for a cup of ice water.

"Have you been tested for HIV?" Daniels asks. "Have you been tested for hepatitis C?"

Donald nods twice.

"You sure?" Daniels asks again, holding eye contact.

It's a sticky, humid Friday, and there's a line of 21 people outside the Winnebago, spilling into the parking lot of a Shell station on the littered corner of Minnesota Avenue and Clay Street NE.

This first-name-only "exchange site" -- short for needle exchange, funded by the nonprofit group Prevention Works! -- is the day's first of three, and the slowest. David, 49, eyes bloodshot, turns in 58 syringes. Before him, Denise, 48, stick-thin, turns in 15 . It's controversial, giving David and Denise clean syringes, but Ron Daniels has a job to do. By 5:30 p.m., he's collected more than 3,000 dirty needles from more than 80 addicts.

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