Pubdate: Mon,03 Jan 2000
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Section: News, page 4
Copyright: 2000 The Orange County Register
Contact:  P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, CA 92711
Fax: (714) 565-3657
Author The Associated Press


PUBLIC HEALTH: New Protection Offers The Once-illegal Operations Hope
For Funding.

OAKLAND-A needle-exchange program that has survived underground for
seven years without public funding is coming out of the shadows for
the new year as state law changes to recognize the value of such operations.

Alameda County Exchange volunteers have waged a battle against the
spread of AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases three
nights a week at various city locations.

People show up on foot, in cars and on bicycles, trading small bundles
of used syringes for new ones.

The group collects about 17,000 syringes a week and gives out at least
that many fresh, clean ones, along with alcohol swabs, bleach,
condoms, and nutritional food.

"It has taken a lot of hustling just for us to stay alive," said Chris
Catchpool, executive director of Casa Segura, which operates the program.

Among Catchpool's responsibilities is writing grants that help bring
in about $95,000 a year in private donations.

"A lot of foundations want to give but haven't been able to since it's
been an illegal activity," Catchpool said.

In its early days, the group braved arrest. But eventually, as studies
proved the value of offering addicts clean needles, the operation was
at first tolerated, then supported by city leaders.

That support, however, was not financial, and the operation was
believed to be the nation's largest to function without public money.

But that should be changing soon for Casa Segura.

The new law doesn't completely legalize such programs. But it does
give them protection from prosecution if a local public-health
emergency is declared.

The Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors
have made such declarations.

Alameda County has been contributing about $250.000 annually to Casa
Segura's other programs, with the stipulation that the funds can't be
used for needle exchange.

Now, the county says it will increase its grants. Oakland officials
haven't promised any money, but have pledged to consider picking up
the slack if grants and other funding sources fall short.

"We feel like we've had a huge success in Oakland, in the face of huge
obstacles," Catchpool said. "But we have to get to the young people.
The median age for overdoses in Oakland is 24, and dropping."
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