BATAVIA – Lyndsay Hartman lives by the simple mantra of “do no harm.”
The Batavia woman operates a mobile needle exchange program for drug addicts, employing harm reduction strategies designed to minimize the risk of infections, disease and overdoses.
Hartman’s ultimate goal is to get drug users into treatment, but her immediate focus is to keep them alive.
“People are dying alone because they are afraid to tell anyone about their use,” Hartman said. “I want people to come out of the shadows and talk about what they are doing.”
From her own resources, Hartman created Point to Point, a program offering clean syringes, the overdose reversal drug Narcan, fentanyl test strips, alcohol swaps, sterile water, tourniquets, condoms and other supplies.
Hartman distributes these supplies to addicts from the back of her clearly-marked vehicle. She sets up Saturday mornings in front of the Kane County Coroner’s office in Geneva, where she disposes of used syringes, and Sunday mornings at Aurora’s Open Door Health Center.
“The ideal situation is to meet in a public place,” Hartman said. “I network a lot and I’m on social media.”
Hartman is the case manager for Lighthouse Recovery in St. Charles, a drug treatment center.
“I love the discussion about harm reduction,” said Hartman, an outspoken advocate for drug treatment programs and facilities.
“Lyndsay Hartman is a rabble-rouser. That’s why we hired her,” said Lighthouse Clinical Director Nathan Lanthrum.
Hartman knows full well that many people do not approve of her needle exchange operation.
“I wish that people who have concerns would reach out to me,” Hartman said.
To those who say she is enabling drug users, Hartman has this reply:
“I’m enabling them to take better care of their bodies. Harm reduction strategies are proven.”
Hartman cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control that addicts participating in needle exchange programs are seven times more likely to get into treatment.
“I tell addicts they should care about themselves,” Hartman said. “They are dying of shame.”
Kane County Coroner Rob Russell makes no apologies for allowing Hartman to distribute supplies from the parking lot of his office and to safely dispose of the used syringes.
“It’s an unconventional thing to do, but it’s a valid thing to do,” Russell said. “We’re trying to save lives and get people into treatment.”
Russell cited the same CDC figures showing that needle exchanges lead addicts to treatment.
“People need to get over it and look at the science,” Russell said.
Until recently, Hartman had been operating her syringe access program in a legally ambiguous arena.
That changed this summer when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation permitting needle exchanges.
Last spring, when the bill was being considered by the Illinois General Assembly, Russell traveled to Springfield to testify in favor. In the end, Russell did not need to speak because support for the legislation was so strong.
“We’re putting politics aside here,” Russell said.
Although that legal barrier has been overcome, Hartman still faces a fundamental challenge.
“Convincing people who use drugs to trust me,” Hartman said.