Los Angeles Times Profiles Ventura County’s Needle-Exchange Program
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday profiled a needle-exchange program being run by the Rainbow Alliance in Ventura County. The weekly program offers drug users a one-for-one exchange of used needles for clean ones without any "hassles" or "questions asked." Although the county's Board of Supervisors authorized the program last December, it did not begin until this September because the Alliance "didn't have any money," as the "already financially strapped" organization does not receive funding for supplies or personnel from the county. The Alliance pays for the cost of syringes -- about 10 cents each -- with grants and donations and relies on volunteers to staff the program. Program officials are hoping to stem the rate of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis infections among drug users in the county. However, the Times reports that it is "too early to tell what, if any, effect" the program has had on HIV and hepatitis rates. In Ventura County, 19% of HIV-positive men attribute their infection to needle use, while 45% of
HIV-positive women blame injection drug use. In addition, 50% of the county's drug users have contracted hepatitis B or C. Ventura County's program is another in a "growing list of cities and counties" across California to begin needle-exchange programs. The Alliance is attempting to expand the service to neighboring Oxnard and Santa Paula counties, but question the available resources. "We have the volunteers to man the sites. We just need someone to donate the space," Sam Gill, a program volunteer, said (Dirmann, Los Angeles Times, 12/1).