NEEDLE EXCHANGE: Expert Testifies on Behalf of California Activists
National needle exchange expert Dr. Peter Lurie of the CDC testified Friday in California on behalf of three activists charged with possessing a hypodermic syringe without a prescription. Audrey Alorro, Jean Rodriguez and Bobby Bowens could face up to a year in prison if convicted, the Sacramento Bee reports. All are members of the San Joaquin Valley Exchange Works, a privately funded program that dispenses around 20,000 needles a month. The group estimates that more than 15,000 injection drug users live in Fresno County. The CDC reported in 1994 -- the most recent data -- that 54% of the highest risk population for HIV infection in the same area were injection drug users. Lurie, chief researcher for a "groundbreaking" CDC needle exchange study in 1993, defended the activists saying there is an "overwhelming consensus" that replacing dirty needles with clean needles reduces "HIV infection among drug users, their sex partners and their children; and that there is no evidence that such swaps lead to increased drug use." Seven states have declared the sale of syringes without a prescription to be illegal. Several other states, however, have made exceptions, allowing the existence of 140 needle exchange programs nationwide. Last month, California Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed legislation permitting individual counties to authorize exchanges, but only after declaring "states-of-emergency" that must be renewed every two weeks. The activists hope to replace the law they contend allows state officials to "shirk responsibility," with another that legalizes needle swaps throughout the state. Lurie said, "The clear trend in this country is a growing acceptance of these programs," which he claims are more "cost-effective." He added, "Without (needle exchange programs), you are tying one, if not both hands, behind your back" (Hanley, AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/7).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.