Drug Centers Hit by Worker Overdoses

Burnt-out harm reduction volunteers fall prey to addiction
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2009 5:47 AM CST
Life Works Program Coordinator Genny Fulco, center, talks with an unidentified intravenous drug user, far right, at the needle exchange program location in Camden NJ on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008.   (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)
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(Newser) – Needle exchange programs have helped drastically cut rates of HIV infection among heroin users but often take a heavy toll on their volunteers, the Wall Street Journal reports. Unpaid or poorly paid staff members work long hours in tough inner-city conditions, often without proper training. All too often they end up using hard drugs themselves, and some have died from overdoses.

Drug abuse is "an occupational hazard" for workers on the frontline of drug treatment, says one epidemiologist whose colleague died of an overdose. Some critics say harm reduction programs—which try to teach addicts to use drugs safely instead of forcing them to quit—should be reined in. Supporters argue for more funding and therapy programs for workers in danger of burning out.