Healthy You Healthy Hennepin

Pick up new needles and works at Red Door

Ignoring Stigmas, Saving Lives

March 2016

Stigma and ignorance can spread infections. Awareness and changed behaviors can prevent them. Candid conversation is key.

Case in point: HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Because these infections are spread in body fluids during sex (be it vaginal, anal or oral) and via contaminated needles shared by injection drugs users (yes, including heroin), the associated stigmas prevent many people from talking about risks and preventive actions.

Not so at Red Door, Minnesota’s largest HIV/STD clinic at 6th & Portland in Minneapolis. The staff's frankness might make some folks uncomfortable, but their plain talk about safe sex and drug use is saving lives.

One of the preventive actions that Red Door staff talk to clients about is the clinic’s needle exchange program. The program targets injection drug users – a demographic at high risk for contracting blood-borne infections. In the United States, approximately 16 percent of new HIV infections and 48 percent of new Hepatitis C infections are attributable to injection drug use.

Launched in 2015, the program provides injection drug users sterile needles and the related “works” (cottons, cookers, and tourniquets) as a safer option than reusing blood-contaminated supplies. It also collects and disposes of those used items. The program is open whenever the clinic is open.

The difficult conversations are often the most rewarding. Speaking honestly with each other makes our community stronger.
John Hirst, Red Door community health specialist



Nationwide, there are more than 200 needle exchange programs like Red Door’s. They’re endorsed by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the American Medical Association as an effective way to reduce the transmission of blood-borne infections like HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B.

Studies consistently show that needle exchange programs do not promote increased injection drug use. There’s also a cost saving component. Infections like HIV and hepatitis are serious and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime; a clean needle costs less than $1.

Needle exchange programs also offer a nonjudgmental place where drug users can get tested for infections, learn how to prevent abscesses from needles, and get connected to recovery resources.

At Red Door, drug users or their friends and family can also pick up Naloxone, a medication that blocks the effects of opiates like heroin, Vicodin, and OxyContin, and can prevent overdose deaths.

Red Door staff talks to client
Red Door offers new needles and works
Red Door collects and disposes of used needles


Programs like Red Door’s are based on harm reduction principles – the idea that not everyone is in a place in their life or recovery to abstain from drugs, but that there is still a way to improve people’s health by meeting them “where they’re at.” One example of this principle in action is Don*, a man in his twenties.

In 2015, Don routinely came to Red Door for clean needles and works. He was not yet ready to get sober, but the needle exchange program allowed him to inject drugs safely.

While at Red Door, Don built a comradery with Red Door staff. When Don finally began to consider treatment, Red Door staff gave him a referral to a chemical dependency treatment facility.

A few months later, John Hirst encountered Don* at that facility. Don told Hirst that he’d used Red Door’s referral to check himself into the facility. Without the needle exchange program, he believes that he would not have gotten to the point in his recovery where he was comfortable getting treatment.

To participate in Red Door’s needle exchange program or to pick up Naloxone, visit the clinic at:

Health Services Building

525 Portland Ave; 4th floor; Minneapolis, MN 55415

Red Door hours:

Monday and Wednesday: 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Closed on weekends and holidays


By: Lori Imsdahl

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