Pubdate: Fri, 08 Mar 2002
Source: Ithaca Journal, The (NY)
Address: 123-127 W. State St., Ithaca, NY 14850
Copyright: 2002, The Ithaca Journal
Author: Dan Higgins
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


ITHACA -- A needle exchange program for intravenous drug users received 
support from county government Tuesday night, but the program is still far 
from up and running.

Once it opens, intravenous drug users will have an anonymous place to 
exchange dirty needles for clean ones, and also have access to help.

AIDS Work of Tompkins County will administer the program, which hopes to 
curb the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It also causes other 
blood-borne illnesses that are spread quickly by sharing dirty needles.

AIDS Work Program Director Micaela Salort-Medina said her organization had 
worked for two years to get a waiver from the New York state Health 
Department to allow the program. The waiver was granted in January.

Tuesday night, the Tompkins County Board of Representatives voted 12-2 to 
give $10,000 to the program, but Salort-Medina said they'll probably need 
about $50,000 or more to get started. It's not clear when that will happen.

"We still need to find a location, we have to set it up," she said.

Salort-Medina said a chemical dependence counselor would be on staff as 
well as others who have worked with people whose lives are affected by 
heroin and other drugs.

People will be able to ask for help if they want it, she said.

Needle exchange programs used to be far more controversial, until last 
year, when the state Legislature decriminalized possession of syringes. 
Under the legislation, pharmacists also were allowed to dispense needles 
without a prescription.

Ithaca Police Chief Richard Basile said he supports the program.

"In every community where they have needle exchange programs, instances of 
police officers getting accidentally stuck with needles reduces. That's 
what sold me," said Basile.

"There's the officer safety factor and the program gives you a wedge to be 
there to help people if they're looking for it," he said.

Still, not everyone embraces the program, or at least spending taxpayer 
dollars on it.

Representatives Daniel Winch, R-Newfield and Enfield, and Thomas Todd, 
R-Lansing, voted against spending county funds on the program Tuesday.

In a brief speech, Winch said it was "immoral" to spend public funds on a 
program that, he believed, encourages drug use. Todd also said that it was 
not an appropriate use of public money.

But supporters insist they're not encouraging drug use, but preventing 
diseases like hepatitis and AIDS.

"People who contract those illnesses, we have to treat them," through 
programs like Medicaid, Salort-Medina said.

People in the health care field said the program could be valuable because 
those with drug habits were less likely to take care of themselves in general.

It's because "They are often ashamed of their habit," said Randi Scheiner, 
a clinical psychologist working in the Behavioral Unit at Cayuga Medical 

"The needle exchange program will provide an avenue for a person to do 
something medically more healthy by reducing the risk of disease that comes 
from sharing needles. Hopefully the information they receive at the 
exchange site will lead to treatment," she said.
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