Needle exchange program debated as heroin spreads

Local News

Rocco Stagnitto quickly searched the ground and pointed. 

He appeared as shocked by what he was seeing as when he first saw it.

He was standing in back of a boarded-up house off North Clinton Avenue in Rochester, facing the cinderblock corner where his son overdosed on heroin in October.

It took him four months to make this trip. 

“I wanted to touch the ground where he died, but it’s just so disgusting to think this is where he took his last breath,” Stagnitto.

Around him sat used syringes, orange needle caps and empty heroin baggies.

The sight that surprised him surprises few living in the North Clinton neighborhood.

It has been like this for years and has worsened with the unrelenting rise of the national heroin epidemic.

Some in the community, like Miguel Melendez of Ibero-American Development Corporation, have blamed the prevalence of used needles on programs that give out clean needles to prevent on HIV and Hepatitis C.

“We don’t want to spread disease, but just throwing the needle on the ground we’re just transferring the problem,” Melendez said.

That is why they asked Trillium Health to stop bringing in their mobile syringe exchange unit – a request that was granted.

Melendez argued the unit was giving needles out without taking old ones in, which fed into the unwanted and unsafe litter.

“I think that’s the perception, but I don’t think that’s the reality. The truck has been off the street now for over a year and we’ve seen an incredible increase in discarded syringes and people going to the area to use drugs in the area,” said Julie Ritzler, of Trillium Health.

While the mobile unit is gone, addicts can still pick up those syringes at Trillium’s center not too far away on Central Ave.           

The idea behind all of this is harm reduction, or keeping addicts as healthy as possible to give them a fighting chance when they are ready for treatment.    

One of the things a user can pick up at Trillium’s needle exchange program is a Fit Pack.

In it, they can place new syringes but there is also another compartment in which they can deposit old ones.

This can help both the addict and the neighborhood.

Rochester Police Officer Eric Majewicz says he supports harm reduction to a point, but he adds he is also tasked with keeping the community safe.

The mission recently led to the Rochester Police Department removing vacant houses, adding LED lights in some open areas, clearing out brush, and blocking off certain spots.

“Looking at strategies to take out what are called cuts going from where vacant houses were to other areas,” Majewicz said.

While policing and harm reduction have created some friction between various groups, Melendez says new attempts by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren to bring everyone to the same table have helped to bridge some of the old divides.

“Trillium has helped us clean up. We’ve built this partnership it’s going to take all of us to keep plugging away at it,” Melendez said.

It appears they have a new partner in Rocco Stagnitto.

Earlier this month, he took a kit that can help reverse an overdose and placed it in the corner where his son lost his life.

It the kit there was a note. 

Stagnitto wrote, “In memory of Anthony Rocco Stagnitto, get help, rest in peace.”

It is message that might convince one person to put down the needle for good.

If you or someone you know is battling addiction, you can find resources here.  

Adolescents struggling with addiction can find help here

You can click this link to read about why users from the suburbs gravitate towards North Clinton Avenue. 

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