Pubdate: Wed, 12 Jul 2006
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2006 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Amy Oakes
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Clinics In North Park, East Village Reinstated

San Diego rejoined scores of cities across the country yesterday when 
it reinstated a needle exchange program for drug users.

In a 6-1 vote, the City Council brought back the program, abandoned a 
year ago when it lost political support. Mayor Jerry Sanders, the 
city's former police chief, led the move to reinstate the mobile 
clinics in the face of opposition from some residents of North Park 
and the East Village, where the exchanges take place.

San Diego will again be the county's only city with such a program, 
which includes drug counseling. It joins eight other cities in the 
state, along with 14 California counties, to offer such a service. 
San Diego County supervisors have repeatedly rejected proposals for 
such programs over the past two decades.

Supporters say the program is key to battling AIDS and hepatitis C, 
which can be spread by sharing dirty needles. Opponents say the 
government is, in effect, promoting drug use.

Joel Harrison, who lives a block from the North Park needle exchange 
site, said he'll be glad to see the program return. At first, he was 
upset about having drug users near his home. But he said he was 
swayed after doing research about the rate of hepatitis C and HIV in 
the neighborhood.

"The mobile clinics are helping get dirty needles off the street," 
Harrison said after the meeting.

But Luauna Stines, a pastor from Ramona who addressed the City 
Council, said the money would be better spent on faith-based drug counseling.

"They don't need another needle," she said. "They need direction."

The City Council first approved a pilot exchange program in November 
2001 on a 5-4 vote. Funded by the Alliance Healthcare Foundation and 
operated by Family Health Centers of San Diego, the program was 
launched in the East Village the next July.

A trailer was set up on 15th Street just two blocks from police 
headquarters on Thursday evenings. In February 2003, the program 
expanded to North Park, where a trailer parked at 31st Street and 
University Avenue every Friday morning.

In three years, 348,832 dirty syringes were collected and 285,524 
clean ones were distributed, according to the city. Most were traded 
at the East Village location, which had about 34 clients daily, said 
Dr. James Dunford, medical director for the city's paramedics.

But until this year, local jurisdictions had to declare a state of 
emergency every two weeks to keep their needle exchange program 
active. The City Council lost votes to approve a state of emergency 
in July 2005 when Councilmen Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza 
resigned. The program ceased that month. However, the trailers 
continued to provide drug counseling.

In January, Ben Hueso and Kevin Faulconer were elected to replace 
Inzunza and Zucchet. Also, a new state law allows local jurisdictions 
to authorize the exchanges without declaring a state of emergency 
every two weeks.

With a full council and a new mayor, proponents of the program sought 
to revive it. Alliance Healthcare, a local nonprofit organization, 
pledged to give $386,400 to pay for supplies and staffing the program 
for two years.

Voting for the program yesterday were Council President Scott Peters 
and councilmembers Toni Atkins, Tony Young, Donna Frye, Hueso and Faulconer.

Councilman Brian Maienschein cast the lone vote in opposition. Jim 
Madaffer, who opposes the program, was absent yesterday.

In remarks before the council vote, Leslie Wade, who represented the 
East Village Association, praised the exchange program. But, she 
said, as more people move into the neighborhood, it might be time to 
consider a new location for the mobile clinic.

Atkins said she hopes to develop a policy for future sites soon. She 
stressed the need for community input as to where the needle exchange 
should be allowed.

"These are difficult to site," she said, adding that the North Park 
location may be the site of a future library.

Patrick Freeman, a heroin user who said he has been clean for 16 
months, told the council that the workers at the mobile clinics were 
the only ones to reach out to him. Although he didn't take advantage, 
he appreciated their efforts.

"The advice was there," he said. "They tried to help me."

Staff writer Leslie Branscomb contributed to this story.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman