NEEDLE EXCHANGE: Two Counties Will Fund Programs
Supervisors in Alameda and Contra Costa counties yesterday declared local states of emergency for the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users, allowing them to legally use public funds to pay for needle exchange programs, the Contra Costa Times reports. The declaration places the two counties among the first to make use of a new state law -- which will take effect Jan. 1, 2000 -- that allows funding for needle exchanges when public officials declare such an AIDS emergency. Alameda Supervisor Scott Haggerty supported the measure, despite expressing concerns about the program last week. "This is a public health issue. I don't want to perpetuate the spread of AIDS into my district," he said. Haggerty warned, however, that when health officials ask for more funding from the board, they had better come prepared with proposals to help addicts find proper treatment. Alameda County already provides $250,000 in supplies for an Oakland needle exchange program, but County Health Officer Dr. Arthur Chen indicated that he would ask the board to double that sum in January. Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson concluded that needle exchanges are cost effective, as the annual cost to treat one person with AIDS can reach $34,000. In Contra Costa County, Exchange Works -- a privately funded, Richmond-based needle exchange program operating since 1995 -- is expected to receive supplies and staff from the county. Supervisor John Gioia, who proposed the needle exchange measure, said, "It is a public health issue about saving money and lives and improving the health of all Contra Costa County." As in Alameda County, Contra Costa supervisors cautioned the program's staff to carefully document their results. Although several residents from both counties expressed concern over the program's effectiveness and the appearance that officials were condoning an "objectionable lifestyle," supervisors proceeded with the plan. Alameda Supervisor Gail Steele said that "the lifestyle is already there, and the disease is spreading" (Brewer, 12/15).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.