Pubdate: Wed, 22 Sep 2004
Source: Times Leader (PA)
Copyright: 2004 The Times Leader
Author: Bonnie Adams, Times Leader staff writer
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Wilkes-Barre Rotary Club Hears A Warning That The Community Is Seeing A 
Hepatitis C Epidemic.

WILKES-BARRE - A local psychologist who supported an area methadone clinic 
said Tuesday several churches are interested in starting a needle exchange 
program for drug users.

Robert Griffin said a church-sponsored exchange is the best way to proceed. 
But he would like the mayors of Wilkes-Barre or Scranton to initiate 
exchange programs through an executive order.

Griffin declined to name the churches that are interested in starting an 
exchange program. He said their interest was the reason for Tuesday's visit 
by Casey Cook, executive director of Prevention Point Philadelphia. The 
group started a needle exchange program in that city and offers other 
assistance to drug users.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said he would have to research the issue 
thoroughly and talk with experts to determine how such a program might help 
or hurt city residents.

Cook said a mayor can authorize a program or a local board of health can 
declare an emergency to start a needle exchange. She said this area has a 
growing Hepatitis C epidemic. Hepatitis C is spread through sharing needles.

"Syringe exchanges provide a bridge to drug treatment," she told the 
Wilkes-Barre Rotary Club.

She said informal syringe exchanges exist even in Pennsylvania 
municipalities where they are not sanctioned by an executive order as they 
are in Philadelphia. She said no one in the state has been prosecuted for 
operating informal exchange programs.

Businessman Robert Field, co-chairman of Common Sense for Drug Policy, said 
Temple University's research of the law determined that informal needle 
exchanges can operate in the state.

Cook's organization is pushing for Pennsylvania to allow over-the-counter 
sales of syringes without a prescription. It is among five states, 
including New Jersey, Delaware, California and Massachusetts, that prohibit 
sales without a prescription.

"Pennsylvania is behind the times. It's costing us in people's lives," Cook 

Donald Fipps, chief executive officer of American Red Cross blood services, 
attended Cook's presentation. He said the organization remains neutral 
regarding needle exchanges because the state of Pennsylvania does not 
sanction them.

Fipps said he personally supports such a program. "Anything that stops the 
spread of fatal diseases is a good thing."

Mike Donahue of the Luzerne/Wyoming Counties Drug and Alcohol program said 
the Department of Health should review the need for a local needle exchange 
program because it involves risk reduction for Hepatitis C and HIV.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D