CONTRA COSTA: County Supervisor Proposes Needle Exchange
Contra Costa county Supervisor John Gioia has proposed supplying clean needles to drug addicts to prevent the spread of AIDS among injection drug users, the Contra Costa Times reports. Under the proposal, which would take effect in January, counties would possess the authority to "decriminalize needle exchanges if officials declare AIDS a public health emergency." Gioia, whose district has been one of the hardest hit by AIDS in the county, wants Contra Costa to make the declaration and then examine ways to support an existing needle exchange program. The program -- which is not legal, but has been tolerated by police -- has operated in Richmond since 1995. The board will consider Gioia's proposal Tuesday. He is also asking that the county establish another exchange program in East Contra Costa. Gioia cites national studies that have "repeatedly found that needle exchange is a cost-effective way to reduce transmission of HIV." He added, "needle exchange does not mean the county supports or condones drug use. You use needle exchange as an opportunity to channel IV drug users into substance abuse treatment." Thirty-seven percent of county residents receiving federally-funded care for HIV or AIDS contracted the disease through IV drug use or contact with an IV drug user. Bobby Bowens, head of Richmond's Exchange Works program, wants to reduce those numbers. He acknowledges that some people bring in 200 to 600 needles at a time on behalf of others, and he knows that some sell the needles for profit. But he says, "Whatever gets those dirty needles to us is fine." Moreover, he notes that the key to the program is offering the needles and health information "without being coercive or judgmental." The group gives out about 5,000 needles weekly, at an annual cost of $26,000 and "two or three people a month ask about treatment options." The Health Services Department sends representatives to the exchange locations bi-weekly to offer medical care -- an informal arrangement which Gioia seeks to expand and formalize under his proposal (McMillan, 12/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.