Pubdate: Fri, 08 Sep 2000
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Author: Byron Wear
Note: Wear is a member of the San Diego City Council.


As a former lifeguard, public safety has always been one of my highest 
priorities while serving on the San Diego City Council. Next week, the 
council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services committee will take up 
needle exchange, a public health and safety issue that requires leadership 
to facilitate solutions.

The spread of Hepatitis C represents a serious health threat to the people 
of San Diego. An estimated 50,000 San Diego County residents already have 
been infected with this potentially fatal disease. The leading cause of the 
spread of Hepatitis C, and HIV, remains injection drug use and the sharing 
of contaminated syringes. Health officials believe Hepatitis C, which can 
survive up to 10 days on a discarded syringe, will be a bigger epidemic 
than AIDS by 2010. The cost for taxpayers will be enormous unless we take 
action now.

A proven means of getting contaminated syringes off the street, saving 
lives and saving taxpayer dollars is through a comprehensive program that 
includes one-for-one clean syringe exchange. I believe a privately funded 
pilot program offering these services to the city of San Diego makes good 
fiscal sense, and is a sound public health and safety policy.

Dozens of successful needle exchange programs have operated throughout 
California and the nation for nearly 20 years, decreasing the spread of 
infectious disease, reducing the number of discarded syringes found in 
public places and providing a bridge to drug treatment. The city of San 
Diego has no such program.

County records reveal that thousands of used syringes, which have most 
likely been discarded by drug users, continue to be found on our beaches, 
playgrounds, parks, shopping centers and school yards in neighborhoods 
throughout the county. They are found in places where curious children 
play, public employees work, and visitors to our city frequent -- school 
playgrounds in La Jolla, the grassy hills of Balboa Park, the streets of 
downtown -- no community is immune from this danger.

And there's even more cause for concern. A recent scientific study of the 
San Diego Police Department sponsored by the UCSD and San Diego State 
University found that 30 percent of the officers reported being stuck by at 
least one needle on the job. Similar studies in other cities found that 2 
to 4 percent of officers were infected with Hepatitis C. This issue 
concerned my council colleagues enough that in July we approved funds to 
screen all city emergency personnel for Hepatitis C.

Ever major medical and scientific organization studying injection drug use 
agrees clean syringe exchange programs help stop the spread of diseases: 
the American Medical Association, United States Surgeon General, U.S. 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, 
National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health. In San Diego 
County, the Medical Society and San Diego County Health Services Advisory 
Board also support these programs.

Let's be honest. People shouldn't use illegal drugs or share dirty syringes 
when using drugs, but they do. We as community leaders shouldn't enable 
this practice.

Unless we take action, that's what we will be doing.

As an elected representative, I have an obligation to my constituents to 
find solutions that can protect our citizens and those public employees who 
serve them every day. I believe a needle exchange program will provide San 
Diego with a proven means of reducing the spread of diseases for which we 
have no cure and will make San Diego a safer, healthier place to live.

Wear is a member of the San Diego City Council.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D