Media Awareness Project

Disease Plays Better Than Needle Exchange In Peoria


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #242 Wed, 8 May 2002

Needle exchanges have been an important part of efforts to block the transmission of disease among intravenous drug users. Apparently the news hasn't made it to Peoria yet. The local newspaper ran several stories this week about a needle exchange program in the city. The coverage included a remarkably ignorant editorial that is reproduced below. A column printed the same day that's almost as bad can be viewed here:

The attack against needle exchange has now become a personal attack on the provider of the services. The editorial viciously attacked Beth Wehrman, a courageous reformer who has brought successful harm reduction efforts to many cities in Illinois. Beth is also a dedicated Media Awareness Project volunteer. The effectiveness of street outreach and needle exchange programs has been proven in study after study - for information on the subject see

Tuesday evening, May 7th, in a rush to judgement, the City Council of Peoria acted, and the Wednesday morning banner headline is "Needle Exchange Program Outlawed." See

Unfortunately, the Peoria Journal Star and some local politicians clearly haven't taken the time to read the evidence. Instead their arguments are based on prejudice and illogical assumptions. Please write a letter to the Peoria Star Journal to politely remind editors that a little research might save them from embarrassing themselves in the future. It might also help to reduce the harm of the drug war in their city. Please also consider writing to the City Council in Peoria. Contact information is below.

Thanks for your effort and support.


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Source: Peoria Journal Star (IL)


Please let the Peoria Mayor and City Council know what you think about their efforts to run Beth out of town! Please be polite and positive. Educate them!

Mayor: David Ransburg

Council Members: Jim Ardis Charles Grayeb Clyde Gulley Jr. John Morris Patrick Nichting Gary Sandberg William Spears Marcella Teplitz Gale Thetford Eric Turner


Pubdate: Tue, 07 May 2002
Source: Peoria Journal Star (IL)
Copyright: 2002 Peoria Journal Star
Related: Please read thru the following to see exactly how this newspaper
created the hysteria:
Bookmarks: (Harm Reduction) (Needle Exchange)


Letting somebody drive into a residential neighborhood and give away needles to junkies is the craziest idea that's come this way in a long time. It's as bizarre as any urban legend that's gone around, but it's true. Unfortunately.

Every Wednesday, Beth Wehrman cruises through Peoria's South Side, pulls over and hands out needles and syringes to drug addicts who, neighbors complain, sometimes shoot up in public view and throw the refuse onto their property. This goes on near a school, near businesses and near homes. And this, Wehrman would have you believe, is good for the city because it will reduce the incidence of AIDS.

Don't you believe her. The weekly appearance of the "needle lady" (as the neighbors call her) is a hideous threat to this neighborhood and to any city that permits it. It lures junkies in. Junkies scare good homeowners, renters and businesses away. It tells kids that drug use must be more than OK, it must be very good, because otherwise somebody wouldn't be handing out needles for free. Even the ice cream man makes you pay. It gives suburbanites one more reason to stay there and Peorians one new reason to think about moving out.

The needle exchange program is part of an effort to limit the spread of AIDS by encouraging addicts to return their used needles and shoot up with clean ones. Nearly one-fourth of new AIDS cases can be traced to contaminated needle reuse. Wehrman, a nurse, runs a Rock Island based agency which partners with a Chicago alliance that says it is engaged in public health research about needles. She also has a grant from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health which is supposed to be used for prevention and education. Wehrman also hands out condoms and gives hepatitis immunizations and HIV tests.

While the support for needle exchanges is growing to counteract the threat of AIDS, there are a number of reasons for communities to embrace them reluctantly. Drugs can kill; sterilizing a needle does not make usage safe. Illegal drug use is illegal; cities should not abet those who would break the law. Junkies destroy families and communities; society should not sanction or enable them.

Whatever the role for privately funded needle exchanges might be should be limited to programs operated in conjunction with a broader effort to wean people off drugs. There is some evidence that addicts who come to agencies for clean needles become receptive, over time, to starting treatment. But a clinic, where a counselor is available, is a far cry from a street-corner encounter with a nurse in a car who says it's not her job to recommend that abusers see the light.

Tonight the Peoria City Council will consider an ordinance that would limit the sale or exchange of needles to a building in a part of town that is not residentially zoned, and also require the distributor to tell the police when and where he'll be working. Corporation counsel Randy Ray believes this is as far as state law permits cities to go. Wehrman maintains that if she is forced to move to a storefront or clinic, she won't be able to reach as many people.

That would be wonderful.

The first responsibility of any city is not to keep its drug addicts healthy but to protect the people who live and work in its neighborhoods, who obey the law every day and who are trying to teach their children to do the same. Residents of the Olde Towne South neighborhood where Wehrman sets up shop already put up with too many neighborhood vermin. They shouldn't have to advertise for imports.

The Peoria City Council should do whatever it takes to put this huckster wagon out of business. Then it should ask the state Legislature to take a second look at the 50-year-old law that courts have said justifies street-corner giveaways if the distributor says she's doing important research. That's really preposterous.


To the Editor of the Peoria Journal Star:

I was very disappointed to read your editorial "Get the Point," about the so-called "needle lady," Beth Wehrman. The slightest bit of research would have dispelled many myths editorialists presented as facts.

The editorial stated, "While the support for needle exchanges is growing to counteract the threat of AIDS, there are a number of reasons for communities to embrace them reluctantly." Unfortunately, the editorial did not cite any studies that would explain such reluctance. Authors must have missed virtually every study released on needle exchanges in the past five years.

Four years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General stated: "After reviewing all of the research to date, the senior scientists of the Department and I have unanimously agreed that there is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention that reduces the transmission of HIV and does not encourage the use of illegal drugs."

That perspective has not changed in the scientific community. Hmmm, who's judgement should I trust, editorialists in Peoria or the former Surgeon General?

The judgement of editorialists was further put into question with a number of statements including: "Wehrman maintains that if she is forced to move to a storefront or clinic, she won't be able to reach as many people. That would be wonderful."

Difficult problems are best dealt with in the open. Pushing them underground only helps them to fester and grow. Maybe this is what the Peoria Journal Star wants the injection drug problem to fester and grow, but please don't try to use obfuscation to convince anyone that that increasing the harm from IV drug use is in the community's best interest.

Stephen Young Member Drug Policy Forum of Illinois

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