Some Law Enforcement Officers Interfere With Needle-Exchange Programs, Report Says
Some injection drug users in the state are reluctant to use locally approved needle-exchange programs because they are afraid of being arrested, according to a Human Rights Watch report released yesterday, the Oakland Tribune reports (Veseley, Oakland Tribune, 9/10). The report is based on a two-week field visit to California in January and February. HRW researchers visited San Francisco, Alameda, Sacramento, Lake, Mendocino, San Diego and Los Angeles counties; the report also incorporates information from interviews with people in Santa Cruz and Marin counties (HRW, "Injecting Reason: Human Rights and HIV Prevention for Injection Drug Users," 9/9). HRW researchers found that some law enforcement authorities "often arrest or hassle patrons" of needle-exchange programs that have been approved by local governments under state law as part of an effort to reduce the incidence of blood-borne diseases such as HIV, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under current state law, needle-exchange programs are legal, but possession of drug paraphernalia -- including syringes -- and the purchase of syringes from a pharmacy without a prescription remains illegal (Hymon, Los Angeles Times, 9/10). Approximately 14% of people with AIDS in Alameda County are injection drug users, compared with 7% in Los Angeles and San Francisco (Oakland Tribune, 9/10). According to CDC figures, approximately 28% of new AIDS cases reported in the United States in 2002 could be linked to injection drug use (Los Angeles Times, 9/10). The report is available online.
Jonathan Cohen, an HRW researcher and the report author, said, "The hypocrisy in California law, the discrepancy between the need for needle exchange and the restrictions on their use, is striking." John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotic Officers' Association, disagreed with the HRW report's findings, saying, "I have never heard anyone on the advocacy side make that allegation. ... The assertion by the Human Rights Watch people that law enforcement engages in that kind of behavior is simply a lie" (Leff, Associated Press, 9/9).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.