Stuck In The Bluff: The Complete Documentary Collection

On Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, at 7 p.m., WABE News uncovered the multi-faceted story of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, its efforts, how they are affected by Georgia’s anti-paraphernalia laws, and the larger issues of IV drug abuse, HIV and social stigma in Atlanta.  The program was re-broadcast on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 9 p.m.   

Stuck In The Bluff: AIDS, Heroin and One Group’s Illegal Quest to Save Lives is a 30-minute documentary produced and reported by WABE News reporter Jim Burress.  This documentary features an organization of people willing to break the law and interact with drug dealers in an attempt to prevent AIDS and save the lives of heroin addicts.  

Twice a week, the rickety Winnebago operated by Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) pulls up to one of the most troubled intersections in the Southeast. A line quickly forms. 

Troubled hands grip used syringes, waiting patiently to exchange their used needles for clean ones. These are heroin addicts, forgotten, and existing—sometimes barely—in a system that criminalizes the people who are working to help addicts change their lives. To tell their story, and acknowledge their troubled future, 90.1 WABE News will interrupt regular programming January 24th at 7 p.m. for this in-depth documentary. 

The Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition is a shoe-string organization behind a controversial needle exchange program.  Due to Georgia’s anti-paraphernalia regulations, the AHRC is participating in illegal activities each time they venture out. Because of the stigma surrounding what they do, and a challenging climate for non-profits, AHRC is in danger of closing its doors.

Stuck In The Bluff: AIDS, Heroin and One Group’s Illegal Quest to Save Lives is a documentary which began as a series of WABE News reports done in collaboration with alternative news outlet Creative Loafing in Atlanta, Georgia.  

The complete audio documentary, along with other stories in the series, can be found below.

Web Extra: The Tangled Timeline of The Bluff

To enhance and expand Stuck In The Bluff, we have created an interactive timeline showing how independent historical forces -- the War on Drugs, the HIV/AIDS crisis, the harm reduction movement, and Atlanta politics and history -- came together to shape the Bluff and everyone involved.  

Listen to the documentary, then be sure to click over to see The Tangled Timeline of the Bluff.


U.S. Attorney for the North District of Georgia, John Horn, said Mexican cartels are distributing heroin using its established drug distribution networks in the city of Atlanta, North Fulton and increasingly northern counties of Georgia.
Tasnim Shamma / WABE

A new report finds that heroin-related overdoses and deaths are rising dramatically in Fulton County.

Atlanta police, politicians and community leaders gathered Friday at Lindsay Street Baptist Church in the neighborhood long known as "the Bluff," at what they say is the epicenter of an emerging heroin epidemic.

In 2010, four people died from heroin overdoses in Fulton County. In 2015, 82 people died. 

Thirteen men and one woman responded to a call-in by the U.S. Attorney’s office Tuesday night. Each is suspected of dealing heroin, and each is being given a chance to avoid federal charges in through a program called “Drug Market Intervention.” The progr
Lisa George / WABE

“The Bluff” is a section of northwest Atlanta, not far from where the new Falcons Stadium is being built that has been riddled by heroin for decades.

Tuesday night, multiple law enforcement agencies met with more than a dozen suspected heroin dealers to give them a second chance. 

Thirteen men and one woman show up at the Lindsay Street Baptist Church. Each has a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office. It promises they will not be arrested. Instead, they will be offered a way out of federal drug charges.

Atlanta Police Department Chief George Tuner in the A Closer Look studio, March 2, 2015
Jason Parker / WABE

The head of Atlanta's police force said a large-scale crackdown on the city's heroin trade is in full swing.  

But Chief George Turner, speaking Tuesday evening as part of an Atlanta Press Club panel on poverty, may have said too much.

Perhaps no other place in the region is plagued with more blight than west Atlanta’s English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods.

Frustrated homeowners hope a new proposal could be a solution.

Far from improving, English Avenue resident Emily Hayden is seeing the neighborhood fall further into disrepair.

“It’s getting increasingly violent. We’ve actually had a bullet come through the wall of our home. I have two young children and I run a daycare here.”

The Tangled Timeline Of The Bluff

Jan 25, 2014

As an adjunct to the documentary Stuck In The Bluff: AIDS, Heroin, and One Group's Illegal Quest To Save Lives, we have put together an interactive timeline of some of the various historical forces that form the backdrop for the story.

The Bluff  -- the place and the people -- didn't just happen randomly.  Like everything else, history played a complex role.  In the Bluff, four particular historical trends converged:

Katie King / WABE

Twice a week, the rickety Winnebago operated by Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) pulls up to one of the most troubled intersections in the Southeast. A line quickly forms. 

(To hear this documentary, click the "Listen" icon above. To view a verbatim transcript of this program, click here.) 

Joeff Davis / Creative Loafing

A documentary by WABE News airs on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. on 90.1 FM. Stuck In The Bluff: AIDS, Heroin and One Group’s Illegal Quest to Save Lives centers on the controversy surrounding the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, a nonprofit that exchanges clean drug needles for used ones.

City Cafe host John Lemley sat down to talk with reporter Jim Burress about what prompted him to create the special, and about what he uncovered.

Part One

The Historical Heavy Hitters

Nov 2, 2013
Robert Woodruff used his Coca-Cola fortune to strengthen the Atlanta region. Eighty years later, his influence is still evident.
Joeff Davis / Creative Loafing

WABE and Creative Loafing have partnered for "The Heavy Lift," a series on Atlanta's vibrant and vital non-profit community.

The series concludes with this “Ode to the Patrons,” a profile of two people whose names will forever frame Atlanta’s philanthropic community. 

Reporter's Notebook: The Shock of Compassion

Oct 27, 2013
Jim Burress / WABE News

The Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, in addition to other outreach services, operates the state’s only needle exchange.

In Georgia, that’s illegal.  

That, coupled with the stigma of its mission, means the non-profit is struggling.  It has just a few months worth of funding on hand, and workers fear they may have to close their doors at the end of the year.

Joeff Davis / Creative Loafing

This is part of a partnership between WABE and Creative Loafing looking at Atlanta's non-profit sector entitled "The Heavy Lift." Claude's story is part of a feature in that series on the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center's needle exchange program.  

Joeff Davis / Creative Loafing

“In the best of times, we’re a hard sell,” is how Mona Bennett, one of the founders of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, puts it.

The AHRC provides many services for clients—but its needle exchange program seems to attract the most attention.  

Used to be an IV drug user could walk up with 700 dirty needles, deposit them into one of these red, biohazard tubs the size of a dorm refrigerator, and leave with 700 clean ones. 

Not anymore, says Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition outreach coordinator Verna Gaines. 

WABE's Rose Scott (left) speaks with CARE CEO Dr. Helene Gayle in Amman, Jordan.  The non-profit is aiding Syrian refugees fleeing to the neighboring country.
Courtesy: Rose Scott / WABE News

In this second installment of "The Heavy Lift", a partnership between WABE News and Creative Loafing, WABE’s Jim Burress profiles two non-profits:  One’s mission is to provide tools to those in need.  The other’s is to provide tools to those in need. 

For the humanitarian relief agency CARE, people are its tools.  More than 10,000 of them work all over the world on everything from disaster relief to global health crises to women’s empowerment to finding safe places for displaced refugees. 

Joeff Davis / Creative Loafing

Vignettes of some of the men living at the  Atlanta Recovery Center.

Dwain Smallwood

At age 55, Dwain Smallwood’s choice was The Recovery Center on Trinity Ave., or the downtown Atlanta sidewalk outside. 

At the time, he didn’t think walking through those doors would save his life.

You have to lean in to hear Dwain’s scratchy whisper of a voice. The rewarded is slow, deliberate, and honest. 

He admits cigarettes were his longtime best friends. But Dwian didn’t want to think that friendship was the cause of his chest pain.  

The Atlanta Recovery Center sustains itself on the $9/night residents pay.  Security guard Dwain Smallwood makes sure things stay calm.
Joeff Davis / Creative Loafing

Five years ago, the reality of the Great Recession started to sink in.  And in the non-profit sector, a great irony emerged on both the national and local scale.

The economic downturn meant giving fell off sharply, leaving non-profits with fewer resources.  This, even as more people were turning to them for help.

“Our mission is to help Atlanta’s men help themselves," says Derek Boyd, executive director of the Atlanta Recovery Center, a 165-bed shelter on Trinity Ave.