Arson Suspected in Fire at Oakland Needle-Exchange Program
A New Year's Eve three-alarm fire that destroyed needle-exchange program facilities in the Fruitvale district of Oakland appears to have been caused by arson, according to an Oakland fire official. The Oakland Tribune reports that the Dec. 31 fire caused $250,000 in damages to the offices of Casa Segura, a needle-exchange program that has been prosecuted three times for possession and distribution of drug paraphernalia and has been the topic of "heated" City Council debate (Bono, Oakland Tribune, 1/3). Casa Segura, funded by the state and county AIDS offices and private foundations, serves 400 people and exchanges 17,000 needles weekly (Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/3). Despite the damages, Casa Segura has pledged to continue offering uninterrupted needle-exchange services, in addition to wound and abscess care, HIV and hepatitis C testing and outreach to high-risk drug users. Program Executive Director Chris Catchpool said, "For an action of this magnitude to take place is shocking. ... If it is arson, then this is an act of political terrorism, I feel." Catchpool added, "There's a misunderstanding of our mission. There's a perception that we're aiding and abetting drug users. We are an HIV prevention [program] and we are successful" (Oakland Tribune, 1/3). Catchpool said that until the fire, the program had received no threats to the physical safety or integrity of the building, but added that arson "reflects a level of extremism that is a threat to all programs that provide the kind of services we provide" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/3).