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Caroline Acker ’68


Caroline Acker ’68 is a recipient of the Benjamin Rush Individual Public Health Award for her outstanding contributions to the betterment of the health and welfare of the citizens of Allegheny County. The award is sponsored annually by the Allegheny [Pa.] County Medical Society. An associate history professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Creating the American Junkie, Acker is a public health advocate and historian of medicine and has founded two needle exchange programs for drug users. As a graduate student she walked the streets of San Raphael, Calif., with a backpack full of syringes and then, in 1995, she co-founded Prevention Point Pittsburgh—a needle exchange program aimed at reducing the risk of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne infections in injection drug users—even though the service was illegal at the time. “By challenging the preconceived notions of how individuals struggling with addictions are viewed, Caroline works to bring health services to a group in society that often has no voice,” says Dr. Melinda Campopiano, a family physician who nominated Acker for the award. As a result of the efforts of Acker and others, a needle exchange program was authorized by the Allegheny County Health Department in 2001, and today, more than 5,000 active drug users have accessed disease prevention services because of her advocacy.

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