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Bronx residents believe needle exchange program making heroin epidemic worse

Posted: 10:50 PM, Nov 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-21 22:51:50-05

THE BRONX — If we’ve learned nothing else about the heroin epidemic in the South Bronx, it’s that there’s a seemingly endless supply of the opiate on the street, especially near the bustling intersection known officially as “The Hub” and unofficially as “The Hub of Heroin”.

That means plenty of temptation for recovering addicts like 53-year-old Enrique Santiago.

"They throw the needles on the floor and stuff like that," said Santiago. Santiago's spent the better part of the last two decades trying to stay clean. "I've been on methadone for a year."

He takes the synthetic drug once a day, six days a week to help ward off cravings for the real thing. And he admits that seventh day without any help  is hard.

It was just last month PIX11’s reporting forced the de Blasio Administration to address residents’ concerns over hundreds of dirty needles found in city garbage cans, and on the street, tossed by the heroin addicts who are getting their fix in broad daylight.

"They be in the buildings, sleeping, urinating, feces and also, they just have so many needles. It's everywhere," said Bronx building porter Michael Dawson.

But in the wake of our reports, residents like building porter Michael Dawson and former heroin addict Vincent Almojera both question whether one of the city’s solutions — needle exchange programs — have only made the addiction crisis worse.

Vincent believes a neighborhood already playing host to a number of methadone clinics could use a few more without the bad rap that comes with visiting them.

"The methadone clinic is not the problem, the methadone clinic is one of the solutions," said Almojera. "The problem is handing out free needles, handing out free needles and the stigma that comes with treatment. People look down on you when you go into treatment and that's the problem."

There are residents like Jennifer Varga who believe the last thing the South Bronx needs is more needle boxes, or more clinics.

"I think they're enabling," she said. "They're many offers and many programs for them."

Varga is one of countless South Bronx residents who believes addicts are simply showing up once a day to get their dose of methadone without getting other important support services, like counseling.

Still, the de Blasio administration’s approach is not changing and since 2018, it’s dedicated 9 million to address the South Bronx heroin crisis.

That includes $500k for:

  • syringe service programs
  • in the field response teams
  • and more than 100-thousand anti-overdose naloxone kits.

Back at “The Hub” and on the street, scenes like this tell the real story.

The jury is clearly still out on whether the city is using the best approach to fight heroin addiction.

Enrique Santiago and other recovering addicts say all they can do is take it one day at a time.

"I was clean for 10 years. I relapsed and now I'm doing the right thing," he said.

"The city is connecting as many New Yorkers as possible with treatments and resources," NYC Deputy Press Secretary Avery Cohen told PIX11. "Since the launch of the Mayor’s South Bronx Action Plan late last year, the City has dedicated $9 million in resources to reach people with services and more support.”