Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jun 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: Ben Lumpkin, Staff Writer


It's Eyed As Step To Deter HIV

NATIONAL CITY -- The City Council plans to consider whether to become the 
first city in San Diego County to authorize a syringe exchange for drug users.

After a presentation sponsored by the Alliance Healthcare Foundation on 
Tuesday, the council asked the city staff to evaluate the proposal.

The exchange would help combat the spread of infectious diseases such as 
HIV/AIDs and hepatitis, said Adrian Kwiatkowski, a government relations 
expert who has helped take Alliance Healthcare Foundation's message to 
politicians in recent months.

When drug addicts came to exchange needles, the staff would work to get 
them into existing drug treatment programs, following an outreach model 
that has succeeded in other parts of the country, Kwiatkowski said.

Foundation experts reviewed needle exchange programs across the country, -- 
of which there are more than 100 -- including one in New Haven, Conn., 
where program administrators reported a 40 percent decline in HIV 
infections after initiating the exchange.

San Diego County government has resisted the idea of a needle exchange 
program for years. County supervisors have argued that state law prohibits 
distribution of needles without a prescription and that a 
government-sponsored needle exchange would seem to condone illegal drug use.

Kwiatkowski said a California law effective since January gives a legal 
stamp of approval to an approach taken by cities such as Oakland and 
Salinas as early as 1994. Those cities began their own needle exchange 
programs after declaring that the transmission of deadly disease by 
contaminated syringes constituted a "health emergency."

Since the new law was passed, Alliance Healthcare Foundation 
representatives have made presentations to several politicians through the 
county advocating needle exchange programs. Tuesday was the first time they 
appeared before an entire city council in session.

Dr. Ian Trowbridge, a Salk Institute professor who has taught an AIDS class 
at the University of California San Diego for the last six years, estimated 
that there are more than 1,000 cases of hepatitis in National City. He said 
hepatitis C in particular could reach epidemic proportions without anyone 
knowing since the disease can exist undetected for 20 years or more.

Council members had mixed reactions to the presentation.

Contaminated needles "are just medical bombs waiting to go off if the wrong 
person gets them," Councilman Mitch Beauchamp said after Parks and 
Recreation Director Jim Ruiz acknowledged that syringes discarded in city 
parks are a persistent problem.

But Beauchamp also wanted to know whether a needle exchange would lure 
drugs addicts from outside the city, affecting the quality of life in 
National City. And Councilman Ron Morrison said he doubted that drug 
addicts would change their behavior as a result of a needle exchange program.

"Is there a medical emergency . . . or are we just making a political 
decision?" Morrison asked.

The city staff will return to the council with a proposal after a monthlong 
summer recess.
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