March 9, 2007

"Safety Counts" members join with ASC Training Coordinator Guy Williams (far right) and Safety Counts Peer Educator Lee S. (seated, second from right) to celebrate their risk reduction efforts.

To promote healthy behavior choices among the at-risk populations we serve, ASC has teamed up with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on an exciting partnership called "Safety Counts." This empowerment-based HIV prevention program helps active drug users (and those in very early recovery) take practical steps to reduce their chances of becoming infected with HIV or spreading the virus.

Through group and individual counseling sessions, social events, and personal follow-up, Safety Counts helps develop skills to reduce risk, resolve problems, and learn how to socialize in drug-free settings. The program is part of ASC's suite of services for clients working to confront substance use and high-risk sexual behaviors.

"Safety Counts is one of many stops along ASC's continuum of harm and risk reduction services," explains Ramona Cummings, ASC's Co-Director of Prevention Services. "Whether you're using drugs indiscriminately or working hard to maintain your recovery, ASC has a tailored service to help lower your risk. In Safety Counts, our staff and Peer Educators help participants work toward individualized risk reduction goals of their own choosing. The program keeps risk reduction in the forefront of people's minds and helps them get past the barriers to behavior change."

According to Guy Williams, who oversees Safety Counts at ASC, the program works. "A recent participant had a simple goal of managing his drug use," says Williams. "He didn't want to quit, just control his consumption. But through Safety Counts, he began to feel his drug use was a problem. He upped his goal from ‘managing' his drug use to entering detox, and he's been clean ever since."

"There's a direct relationship between having positive connections in one's life and reducing one's risk," adds Williams. "ASC and Safety Counts provide those connections." For participants, success comes through perseverance: the program requires consistent involvement over a four-month period. That's a big commitment for someone actively using drugs or in early recovery.

To make the program fit the reality of participants' lives, ASC "sandwiches" the Safety Counts intervention between our Harm Reduction Training (available before Safety Counts) and our harm reduction support group (provided after Safety Counts). We also provide a spectrum of services that support recovery and wellness every step of the way—from HIV counseling and testing to food pantry services to onsite mental health counseling.

Safety Counts is one of several "evidence-based" programs the CDC funds to promote healthy behavior choices among populations disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. By integrating these evidence-based interventions into comprehensive, wraparound services—like our successful, "home-grown" peer education programs—ASC gives clients the tools they need to take the next step toward rebuilding their lives and reducing the risk of HIV/AIDS.

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