Some art-walkers were treated this month to a green tricycle bearing a surprising array of goodies: Chocolate cookies with prickly pear jam on top, walnut fudge, vegan coconut muffins, and pamphlets about needle exchange and HIV prevention.
Such was the bounty of the Mobile Bake Unit, a fundraiser-mobile of the Phoenix Harm Reduction Organization.
A syringe exchange program, or SEP, provides sterile syringes, as well as other materials such as swabs and clean water, to reduce the risk of disease for intravenous drug users (IDU's). This contact is also an opportunity to talk to IDU's about safer practices, disposal, safe sex education, and how to get treatment.
But what PRHO does is harm reduction, not syringe exchange, its
Coles says they originally hoped to set up an SEP, they quickly realized the law would get in the way.
Plus, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has said he will do everything in his power to keep syringe exchange a non-reality on his turf, although Pima County has made greater strides in allowing SEP's to operate (see also here).
Because of this, Coles says PHRO decided to take a "two-pronged" approach: On one front, they raise awareness about SEP and harm reduction in an effort to have syringe exchange legal in Arizona someday.
But since such change to state laws could take a decade or more, by Coles's estimates, she says the group's short-term goals are "doing what we can now" to prevent HIV.
The harm reduction kits PHRO distributes contain everything the group can legally give to IDU's (cotton swabs, an information packet, condoms, etc.)
"If we could give out syringes, we totally would, but we just can't," Coles says.
"Basically, it is being willing to meet people where they're at," says Gepner of harm reduction. It's the difference between supporting drug use and supporting drug users' human rights to health, resources, and education.
|The Mobile Bake Unit raised money to provide more of these for free to Valley users.|
Efforts similar to PHRO have sprung up (and sometimes been crushed) everywhere from Scotland to Malaysia in the past three decades. Sterile needle exchange was endorsed by as "a fundamental component of any comprehensive and effective HIV-prevention programme" by a 2004 World Health Organization report. (Though the same report suggested that more research is needed and that legal sale of clean needles in pharmacies may be even more effective.) Overall, studies hint that such programs reduce HIV transmission, risky user behavior, and enrollment in drug treatment without increasing substance abuse.
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The Mobile Bake Unit, their first fundraiser in about a year, raised more than $100 on First Friday. The proceeds will go straight toward printing and supply costs, organizers said in a follow-up email, because all baked goods were donated by community members. (Buying the goodies was also completely by donation.)