San Diego Council Member May Withdraw Support from Needle Exchange Program
San Diego City Council member Toni Atkins, who last year voted in favor of a needle-exchange program in the city, said on Wednesday that she will oppose the program if it does not produce positive results, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Last year, the council voted 5-4 in favor of a needle-exchange program to help reduce transmission rates of hepatitis C and HIV among intravenous drug users. But at a public forum on Wednesday, Atkins said that she does not "know if we'll see positive results." Neighborhood residents fear that the program, which could start as early as July in the City Heights and North Park neighborhoods, might encourage drug use and bring more drug users into their neighborhoods. The program, funded by a grant from the Alliance Healthcare Foundation and operated by Family Health Centers of San Diego, will use a mobile clinic as an exchange base and will visit each neighborhood for a few hours each week. The program will provide counseling services and will exchange no more than two needles per person each visit (Graham, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/16).
In related news, the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to install padlocked needle disposal boxes in a dozen public restrooms, the AP/Fresno Bee reports (AP/Fresno Bee, 5/17). The boxes, which cost about $75 each, have disposable liners to protect city park and recreation employees from contact with the needles (Whitaker, New York Times, 5/17). Santa Cruz Needle Exchange program employees will collect the needles from the boxes, and the county will sterilize and destroy the needles. City employees have found needles in garbage cans and toilets in Santa Cruz, and seven employees "have been stuck by improperly disposed needles" since 1997. None of the seven employees contracted infections as a result. Supporters of the proposal said that the boxes will protect public health, but opponents said that they "send a bad message to visitors and families" (AP/Fresno Bee, 5/17).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.