SACRAMENTO COUNTY: Board Might Approve Needle Exchange
If the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors declares a "public health emergency," the jurisdiction's underground needle exchange could come out in the open, the Sacramento Bee reports. The supervisors have been given information packets "leaning toward" such programs by the county's medical officer, Dr. Glennah Trochet, who warned that she is "treading with caution." Since a new state law took effect Jan. 1 that decriminalizes needle distribution in areas declaring a public health emergency, at least six other jurisdictions have "ended their secrecy." For the past six years, Sacramento County needle exchanges have "worked in the shadows" to supply drug users with clean, sterile syringes in exchange for dirty needles on a one-for-one basis. Working roughly 40 hours per week, the volunteers have provided more than 100 addicts with 200,000 needles annually. The project, which is funded through private anonymous donations, costs roughly $30,000 a year to operate. In addition to providing clean needles, volunteers offer information on medical treatment and health concerns.
The Debate Goes On
Local police remain opposed to the idea, saying it "does nothing to protect the public health and sends the wrong message about drug abuse." Lt. Jim Cooper, a former narcotics officer, said, "All these people are doing is enabling the drug users. They have good intentions, but they're misguided." But infectious disease expert Dr. Neil Flynn of the UC-Davis argued that studies have shown that access to clean needles can reduce the spread of HIV by as much as 30%. Trochet agreed, saying that such programs are "a valid strategy for reducing the spread of disease and getting addicts into treatment. ... I have never heard a good argument against it from a public health standpoint." Most of the opposing arguments are political, Trochet added. Alysanne Taylor, founder of Marin County's needle exchange program, said, "This should not be about politics. Everyone in our community is valuable whether they are a drug user or not. We don't want them to die. We don't want them to get HIV. We don't want them to spread disease." It is not known whether the Sacramento County board will approve such a measure. Trochet said the answer "should hinge on the evidence about whether the needles can successfully reduce transmission" of disease (Hubert, 2/17).