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Syringe services volunteer: 'I just feel this is my purpose'

New Hampshire Sunday News

May 19. 2018 8:15PM
Heather Haines 

NASHUA - The Southern New Hampshire AIDS/HIV Task Force oversees New Hampshire's newest syringe services program.

Syringe Services Alliance of the Nashua Area (SSANA), which started in February, has no brick-and-mortar location. Instead, outreach workers with backpacks of supplies meet clients at various locations, giving out safety information along with supplies, according to Wendy LeBlanc, vice president of the agency.

Heather Haines, 31, is an AmeriCorps member and part of the SSANA outreach team. A 10-year Army veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2006-07, she is in recovery herself, she said.

"It was a way for me to give back to the community," she said. "I've always loved helping people.

"I just feel this is my purpose."

As an outreach worker, Haines distributes and collects syringes, encourages clients to get tested for HIV and hepatitis C, and helps them find resources such as housing, food or medical services.

"I just love connecting to other human beings," she said. "I think that's just in our nature as human beings, being able to connect. Being understood and not being judged. We all want these things."

She's already seen the difference the SSP is making, with some clients who inject drugs doing so more safely. And some have gotten into treatment, she said. "They're beginning to ask questions and really trusting us. They're asking, where do I go to get help?"

Her message to them: "We're human, we make mistakes, but we can always come back from them.

"If we're still breathing, there's a way."

Haines believes that personal connection is what makes SSPs work, she said. "I'm not looking down on them and I'm not being pushy. I'm just asking how they're doing."

And it's what got her into long-term recovery, she said.

"Somebody gave me that human connection that I needed and let me know that I was worth trying," she said. "And just having those people there for me, no matter how many times I had to keep trying, was very crucial for me to continue to try."

Isolation, she said, is a big part of having a substance abuse disorder. She believes breaking down the stigma could begin to turn things around.

"We all, at the end of the day, are human beings, and we need connection," she said.

Heroin Nashua

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