August 8, 2003

Project directors hits the streets with HIV, drug use education

PARA works to inform drug users of risk

By Joseph Pena

     From where we stand, Jose Urrea says, we can buy a pound of crystal meth, a pound of cocaine, a pound of heroine, perhaps 100 pounds of marijuana—all within walking distance.

Urrea grew up on the San Ysidro/Tijuana border. As a child, he sold chewing gum and shined shoes.

He is familiar with San Ysidro’s streets—he’s lived on them for a chunk of his life, and has spent seven years in San Quentin. But for a great deal of time, 14 years, Urrea used heroine. He snorted for the first time when he was 14, a year after he dropped out of school and ran away from home.

“The most important thing my father said to me was ‘if you’re going to be a gardener, be a good gardener,’” said Urrea. “And so when I was a dope fiend, I was a good dope fiend; and when I was an addict, I was a good addict; and when I was a burglar, I was a good burglar; and when I was a prisoner, I was a good prisoner.”

Now, 25 years clean, Urrea works long hours with Prevention Assistance Referrals and Action (PARA) at the San Ysidro Health Center (SYHC). He gets calls at home at all hours of the night—his clients’ addictions don’t comply with office hours.

Urrea is a prevention case manager for PARA. He works with intravenous drug users and their sex partners to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and STD transmission.

Latinos living in the United States have been disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, accounting for 19 percent of reported AIDS cases in 2000 but comprising only 14 percent of the U.S. population. 

California is ranked second in the nation for Latinos living with HIV/AIDS (New York is ranked first). In 2000, an estimated 11,000 Latinos were living with AIDS in California.

San Diego ranked tenth in the nation in 2000 for reported cases of HIV/AIDS among Latinos.

In 2000, heterosexual contact was the cause of HIV infection in 63 percent of Latino women infected with the virus. Injection drug use accounted for 35 percent of cases. In Latino men, homosexual activity was responsible for 45 percent of cases and injection drug use was the second leading cause at 33 percent (two times more likely the cause than in white males).

PARA’s three-step plan has targeted 600 IDUs and manages 60 cases. Street outreach is the first component of the plan.

After making contact with users, Urrea conducts a series of sessions that teaches clients about HIV and STD transmission and infection, the correct way to clean injection equipment and condom use procedures.

Case management is PARAs third component and pairs outreach workers with IDUS to help identify goals and accomplish tasks.

Nationwide, Latino women and children are among the fastest growing HIV/AIDS populations. A report by The United States Department of Health and Human Services attributes the numbers to lack of primary health care and information and preventive health services.

Aside from PARA’s outreach work, the SYHC offers free HIV screening for patients and Daniel Ordorico, the health promotions manager and community outreach director at San Ysidro Health Center is hoping that the center can help make a difference in the Latino Community with projects like Title 3, which provides medical service, case management and social services for patients living with HIV/AIDS in San Diego’s South Bay.

Through an agreement with UCSD’s Owens Clinic, health care specialists in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment are sent to SYHC to provide treatment. In addition to the specialists, SYHC has registered nurses, counselors and nutritionists to help patients adjust to living with the disease.

Federal grants and government funding fund the services that the center offers. Though many of the patients receive government health care, the services are free of charge.

An addict isn’t always an addict, Urrea says and education is the only solution he believes will work to solve the growing problem of HIV/AIDS in the Latino community.

“You learn something and you pass it on,” said Urrea. “That’s my purpose. If you don’t pass it on, what is the point?”

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