Pubdate: Mon, 19 Nov 2001
Source: Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
Copyright: 2001 The Albuquerque Tribune
Author: Kate Nash, Tribune Reporter
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Note: Andy Lenderman contributed to this report.


It's a building few people want in their back yards.

It's a program many people say is beneficial.

And it has to go somewhere.

That's the dilemma Albuquerque city councilors face with a bill that would
set up rules for needle exchange facilities in the city.

Among other things, the bill before the council tonight would require a
facility's operator to obtain a permit and would allow facilities to locate
only in certain areas.

The issue pits Nob Hill residents fatigued by problems surrounding a needle
exchange center in their neighborhood against those who say the program does
plenty of good for the community at large.

"The thing we can't do on this council is take a `not in my back yard'
approach," City Councilor Greg Payne said.

Albuquerque has eight needle exchange centers, advocates say. The programs
allow drug addicts to obtain clean needles in hopes of stemming the spread
of infectious diseases like AIDS and hepatitis.

City Councilor Hess Yntema, the sponsor of tonight's measure, said he is
concerned needle exchanges like one in the Nob Hill section of his district
attract crime.

His proposal wouldn't allow facilities within 500 feet of places such as
schools and churches.

If passed, the bill would shut down what its proponents say is one of the
most successful needle exchange programs in the country - the Harm Reduction
Center at 4120 Silver Ave. S.E. The center is near a school and several

At a recent meeting of the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association, doctors said
the facility's departure would be a terrible loss.

"I think there's a lot of confusion about cause and effect," Dr. Bruce Trigg
told the angry neighbors. 

"To blame the Harm Reduction Center for all the problems in your community
is unfair and simplistic."

Neighbors, however, are furious.

They recounted story after story of businesses packing up, homes suffering
break-ins and addicts overdosing in their yards.

"This is just a typical day at the needle exchange," Clyde McDonald said.

Both sides promised they will be watching tonight's meeting closely.

Some councilors say the city needs to work out a way to locate the
facilities away from residences.

"I think there's a real need for this program," Payne said. "But we also
can't have a situation where used needles are littering a neighborhood."

Striking a balance might be difficult.

"It's just too bad that in reaching out to one distressed community we
haven't managed to reach out to the people who live there," Payne said.

The controversy might be compounded by the calendar: This is the last
meeting for five of the nine councilors. Five new councilors, elected in
October, take office Dec. 1.

Outgoing City Councilor Alan Armijo said he's not sure how he'll vote on the

"Part of the problem," he said, "is that we need to figure out something so
that we're not taking the problem and just moving it from one spot to

Under an Armijo-sponsored amendment to the bill, existing needle exchange
facilities would have a year to relocate to meet the requirements of the
measure, if it's approved, he said.

Councilors tonight also are expected to consider:

A measure that would give city employees who are on military leave the
difference between their salary and their military pay. It would also
continue health insurance benefits for the employees while they are away.
Outgoing councilor Tim Kline is the measure's sponsor.

A set of measures that will allow the city to take out loans from the New
Mexico Finance Authority to pay for part of the $25 million renovation at
the Albuquerque Sports Stadium. The bills will allow the city to move
forward with the project, which will be paid for by a combination of rent
from the Triple-A Calgary Cannons, a 10 percent surcharge on goods sold at
the stadium and the loans.

The project is expected to be complete in April 2003.
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