Riverside County Board of Supervisors Votes To Establish Committee To Discuss Needle Exchange Program
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-1 to establish a committee to discuss a needle exchange program to help reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C in the county, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. Riverside County Health Director Gary Feldman told supervisors that the number of reported cases of HIV and hepatitis C in the county has "skyrocketed" in the past few years. He declared an "unofficial state of health emergency" in the county and recommended a needle exchange program. The board agreed to establish a committee to discuss a needle exchange program with health and public safety workers but did not declare an official state of health emergency, which under state law allows counties and cities to authorize a needle exchange program. The Inland AIDS Project has proposed a mobile needle-exchange program that also would provide HIV tests and treatment referrals. The board plans to reconsider the proposed needle exchange program in 60 days. Feldman said that needle exchange programs represent "a proven way to stop escalating infection rates" from blood-borne diseases. Law enforcement officials oppose needle exchange programs, which they maintain could increase illicit drug use and "perpetuate criminal activity" (Coronado, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 11/6).
In related news, the Press-Enterprise reports that the number of new AIDS cases in the Inland area has increased 76% over the past two years, with many new diagnoses among minorities and young people. According to a draft report published by the Inland Empire HIV Planning Council, Bernardino and Riverside counties had a combined 3,670 reported AIDS cases at the end of 2001. The number of diagnoses among minorities, young people and women has increased over the past two years, the report found. Victoria Jauregui Burns, head of HIV/AIDS programs in Riverside County, said that minorities often receive treatment at a later stage of HIV infection than whites and recommended that health officials extend outreach efforts to minority communities. Steven English, chair of the board of the Inland AIDS Project, said that health organizations must employ outreach workers who are "comfortable" with the communities that they target, adding that his group has established a committee to involve more minorities in HIV/AIDS outreach efforts (Surman, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 11/5).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.