Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2004
Source: Times Leader (PA)
Copyright: 2004 The Times Leader
Author: Robert E. Field


As an early local supporter, I am delighted that Luzerne County has caught 
up with other parts of the country by establishing a methadone clinic. Now 
it is time for public attention to turn to the exploration of a syringe 
exchange as the next important public health initiative.According to the 
federal Center for Disease Control, 35 percent of all new AIDS cases 
reported in the USA were injection-related during 1999. Furthermore, 37 
percent of all new AIDS cases among women and 37.6 percent of all new AIDS 
cases among children under 13 were injection-related.

Both HIV/AIDS and hepatitis are spread by heroin users through the sharing 
of dirty needles and, in turn, to the general public through sexual 
contact. The result is that the loved ones of all of us are endangered.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of the few states that prohibits the 
sale of syringes in pharmacies without a prescription, thus necessitating 

In 1998, Donna Shalala, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services, 
reported to Congress: "A meticulous scientific review has now proven that 
needle exchange programs can reduce the transmission of HIV and save lives 
without losing ground in the battle against illegal drugs." In the same 
year, Dr. Harold Varmus, then-Director of the National Institutes of 
Health, proclaimed: "An exhaustive review of the science in this area 
indicates that needle exchange programs can be an effective component in 
the global effort to end the epidemic of HIV disease."

To reduce the spread of diseases and to provide a bridge to active and 
out-of-treatment drug users, both Philadelphia and more recently Pittsburgh 
have exercised their right under state law of declaring a health emergency 
and are sponsors and funders of syringe exchanges. Other cities have 
permitted syringe exchanges to operate.

As a supporter of existing exchanges, I am acquainted with the many 
services they provide and how they refer clients to medical facilities when 
the client is finally ready to seek help.

I would encourage civic leaders to tour syringe exchanges in Philadelphia 
and other cities and report back on their findings. It took over 20 years 
to bring a methadone clinic to Luzerne County, let us not allow 
life-preserving syringe exchanges to suffer a similar delay.

Progress in public health measures is an ethical imperative and it also 
reduces the cost of health care and is an essential building block for 
local economic development.

Reliable information on syringe exchanges and other drug related issues can 
be found at

Robert E. Field

Co-chair, Common Sense for Drug Policy

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