EUGENE, Ore. - Convicted drug dealer and former intravenous meth user Randy Burnett used to run narcotics up the Interstate 5 corridor. Now he's traded the needle for a set of pinchers, running Eugene's HIV Alliance dirty needle pickup program.
“It’s just my way of giving back," said Burnett, 52, outside the HIV Alliance's steel syringe drop box on Friday. "I ruined a lot of people’s lives, and I can’t change that. We all have a past. But I can help today.”
Every Friday, Burnett and fellow volunteer Jerry Dickerson drive to the Alliance's four other syringe drop off boxes in Eugene and Springfield, picking up thousands of used needles and other hazardous waste left behind.
“Usually in one week, we’ll pick up around 2,000 to 4,000 dirty needles," said Burnett as he stood in front of two sharps containers, full of used syringes.
"I'm just glad they're being used," said Burnett. "Imagine all this on the streets, out in the community and in people's front yards."
Burnett loaded two garbage can-size containers full of used syringes into the pickup van. Each container holds approximately 1,000 syringes. From there, Burnett takes the sealed containers to Peace Health for incineration.
In addition to emptying drop boxes, Burnett makes individual pickups around town - house calls, so to speak, wherever there is a need.
Burnett has spent 16 years of his life in prisons across the US as we'll as Canada and Mexico--all on drug related charges.
"That's cause I was a drug runner," said Burnett.
Burnett said he started using marijuana when he was 13 years old and eventually graduated to shooting methamphetamine by the age of 28. He said he begain cooking, selling and transporting the drug to support his habbit.
A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Corrections told KVAL News Burnett did five separate stints in the Oregon prison system and was released on parole in 2008. But Burnett said his life behind bars started much earlier, when he was 19 years old.
“I’ve been in Mexico, New Mexico, Montana, Canada and Oregon," said Burnette, who has 58 felony convictions, mostly related to the meth trade. "And in Oregon I’ve been in all the prisons except for the eastern ones.”
Burnett was released from the Powder River Corrections facility to a rehab facility. He said that was the tipping point in his.
“I have two beautiful kids," said Burnette. "They were growing up without me. I have a beautiful mom growing old without me, and for me it wasn’t a matter of addiction, it was a matter of choice. How do I want to live my life when I get out this time?”
Since his release from prison, Burnette has been the key volunteer for the HIV Alliance's syringe pickup program and has even helped expand its reach.
Along his route, Burnett also delivers self-care, safe sex and safe injection kits to homeless individuals and IV drug users. Wal-Mart donates supplies such as soap, toiletries and baby clothes for the self-care kits.
"This is just something I thought up on my own," said Burnett outside the Delta Highway Wal-Mart on Friday.
“Life is good," he said. "You know, life is good. I live a simple life today, but it’s a good life.”)
An HIV Alliance spokeswoman told KVAL News volunteers like Burnett are essential to keeping the programs like syringe pickups going. She added that one of the Alliance's key contributors donated 30 percent less last year. As a result, the Alliance had to cut back on their One For One needle exchange program.
HIV Alliance drop off boxes are located at the Springfield Library, Buckley House Detox, Washington Jefferson Park and the White Bird Clinic in Eugene.