AIDS PREVENTION: Counties to Launch Needle Exchange Programs
Beginning this spring, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties will sponsor needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users in an effort to curb the spread of diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis, the Contra Costa Times reports. Addicts will receive "advice on how to stay healthy, literature on treatment and a batch of clean supplies for their next fix" but "no sermons about the evils of drug use." Seen as a "necessary evil," the Alameda County policy states, "The user's decision to use drugs is accepted as a fact." According to the CDC, IV drug users comprise more than half of the country's new HIV infections -- up from one-third in 1995 -- and Peter Lurie, former UC-San Francisco researcher, said the group is "the fastest growing ... for HIV infections." He added, "They represent the future of the HIV epidemic in America." In Alameda County, IV drug users make up nearly 50% of those testing HIV-positive and almost 75% of those testing positive for hepatitis C. Alameda and Contra Costa counties were the first in the state to announce plans for a needle exchange program after Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed legislation making such efforts legal. County health officials in Alameda plan to spend $425,000 a year, while Contra Costa likely will earmark $100,000 annually. Although some still disapprove of needle exchanges, saying they give children the wrong impression about drug use, several studies have shown exchanges to reduce the spread of HIV and others conclude that they "do not promote drug use" (Holbrook, 2/20).
In other AIDS prevention news, the city of Berkeley was recently awarded a $785,000 grant from the State Office of AIDS for prevention efforts aimed at communities of color, especially among African Americans. Currently, African Americans in Berkeley, comprising 19% of the total population, make up 31% of all AIDS cases in the city. Between 1989 and 1998, the proportion of African Americans diagnosed with HIV increased from 19.5% to 43%. Berkeley also has a higher AIDS rate than the state of California, with 29.6 cases per 100,000 residents. Statewide statistics show one out of every 1,124 blacks has AIDS, compared to only one out of every 3,115 white Californians. According to a spokesperson from the city's Office of the City Manager, the data reveal "a need to reach beyond treatment to address root social causes for the disproportionate infection rates in minority communities." The City of Berkeley AIDS Office, in conjunction with the HIV Prevention Planning Committee, will use the money to "strengthen current treatment programs" and to fund new community-based programs that will disseminate information on AIDS prevention and treatments (Contra Costa Times, 2/20).