Pubdate: Wed, 06 Nov 2002
Source: Press-Enterprise (CA)
Copyright: 2002 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Michael Coronado
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)


The top medical official in Riverside, Calif., declared an unofficial state 
of health emergency Tuesday in the county, warning that the number of 
reported cases of hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS has skyrocketed in 
recent years.

Riverside County Health Director Gary Feldman told the county Board of 
Supervisors that police officers, nurses, doctors and residents are in 
danger of contracting an infectious disease and that a needle exchange 
program is a proven way to stop escalating infection rates.

Since 1995, reported cases of hepatitis B have increased by 49 percent in 
Riverside, and the area's AIDS rate is higher than that in the state or 
nation, he said.

California's AB 138 allows cities and counties to permit needle exchange 
programs if elected officials declare a local health crisis.

However, Tuesday's declaration of a health emergency does not allow the 
needle exchange program to go forward because it was not formally passed by 
the Board of Supervisors.

The board voted 4-1 Tuesday to convene a committee to discuss the issue and 
the proposed needle exchange program with health and public safety workers. 
The program has drawn controversy and debate across the county.

Supervisors stopped short of declaring a formal health emergency, saying 
they needed more information. The board is expected to revisit the needle 
exchange issue in 60 days.

Members of Inland AIDS Project, which serves a 22,000 square mile area of 
Southern California, want to operate the needle exchange from a van that 
they can drive to different locations.

They would exchange one clean syringe for one dirty syringe, offer health 
and treatment referrals as well as HIV testing.

Almost the entire audience stood in support when asked by IAP's John Salley 
who present favored the program.

Doctors, nurses and health advocates from Ventura, San Diego and Riverside 
spoke in support of the proposal.

The district attorney's office and Sheriff-elect Bob Doyle oppose the program.

Most law enforcement officials and prosecutors have strongly rejected the 
proposal, stating that the needle exchanges perpetuate criminal activity.
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