'I am trying to keep drugs out of my life, and yet I'm forced to take them every day'
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EUGENE, Ore. - Some scars are more than skin deep.
"Here I am going to (Narcotics Anonymous) and trying to keep drugs out of my life," he said, "and yet I'm forced to take them every day because of this program."
He asked us not to use his name or show his face.
He wants to conceal his identity because the stigma behind HIV is still very real for him, even 30 years after being diagnosed.
For him, the drugs used to be "speedballs": a cocktail of heroin and cocaine injected directly into his veins.
Three decades after those needles gave him HIV, the doses he takes are not a choice or an addiction.
These drugs maintain his his health.
"It's better than coming down with AIDS," he said. "But it's poison. Your body is not meant to have these chemicals in them."
Medication has allowed him to live HIV positive without developing AIDS.
He said he has never felt the symptoms of his HIV.
"I attribute it to the fact that I've been clean and I stopped using drugs. I stopped drinking," he said.
All things considered, he considers himself lucky.
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But what if today's resources existed back in 1989?
"One way that I think it could have been prevented is if there was more needle exchange availability," the man said.
These days, the HIV Alliance spends $125,000 of private funds on syringe exchanges. It is a preventative approach to HIV.
Drug users trade their used needles for clean ones, no questions asked.
"We don't really see a lot of new infections for people who inject drugs because needle exchange is a very efficient way to stop the transmission of HIV," said Renee Yandel, Executive Director of the HIV Alliance.
The less people share needles, the less likely they will contract HIV.
Yandel said syringe exchanges do not increase drug use.
But they do decrease transmission, saving lives as well as costs.
"If you think about the cost of an HIV infection, it can be $600,000. The cost of a syringe is nine cents," said Yandel. "You can run the syringe exchange for five years for the cost of one infection. It's an incredibly cost effective program."
At both the mobile and on-site exchanges, recipients of the needles are provided with information on both addiction and HIV resources.
"Because when someone is facing an active addiction it is very hard for them to prioritize a lot of things related to their health and HIV being one of those things," said Yandel.
This man did make it a priority.
Today he is sober.
The only evidence of his past: the fading scars left by his battle with drugs.
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It is the unseen but ever present HIV that he is worried has marked him.
"Unfortunately even though there's a lot of information these days about the contagion-cy of the disease, people still hang on to these old suspicions," he said.