Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 1998 Source: San Francisco Bay Guardian, The (CA) Copyright: 1998 San Francisco Bay Guardian Contact: http://www.sfbg.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/387 Author: Angela Rowen Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?137 (Needle Exchange) NEEDLE POINTS Alameda County Has An AIDS Emergency. So When Will It Fund Needle Exchange Programs? After her arrest, Guerriere entered a seven-month recovery program. "If I had gotten HIV, I don't think I would have gone into recovery," Guerriere told the Bay Guardian. "I would have been like, 'What's the point? I'm going to die anyway.' " Since getting clean, she has continued distributing needles, in defiance of state law -- volunteering at Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution (NEED) in Berkeley, where she's a student. Now Guerriere wants Alameda County officials to show the same courage. San Francisco has funded needle exchange programs since 1991. Now that Alameda County's Board of Supervisors has declared the AIDS crisis in the African American community an emergency, activists want the county to put its money where its mouth is. NEED distributes more than 5,000 clean needles to about 120 people a week in Berkeley. The nonprofit works closely with the Alameda County Exchange (ACE), which serves about 1,500 people a week at its three sites in Oakland and Fruitvale. That's a lot -- but not enough when there are an estimated 10,000 IV drug users in the county. AIDS activists say they can't expand without funding from the county. "We want the county to do what San Francisco did seven years ago -- to fully fund needle exchange," Bob Iversen, of ACT UP's East Bay chapter, said at a candlelight vigil on World AIDS Day last week. Geoff Meredith is with the HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County, which runs ACE. He says funding for syringes would put muscle behind the resolution declaring an AIDS emergency in the county's African American community, which the board passed Nov. 5. "The declaration was a good gesture," Meredith told us. "But we're asking them to take the next step." Until the board takes that step, money from Alameda County and cities within it can only go toward items for "harm reduction," such as alcohol swabs and bleach, used to clean needles, and condoms. Federal funding for needle exchange programs has been prohibited since 1988. While Berkeley's health department gives NEED $40,000 a year for such supplies, ACE, which exchanges three times as many syringes as NEED, only gets about $20,000 from the county. The rest of the exchange's $90,000 budget comes from private donations. According to Meredith, ACE is the largest needle exchange program in the country that doesn't receive direct local funding for needles. "Our success in reaching people has outstripped our funding," he told us. "And there's so many others that we don't reach. We estimate we reach about 15 to 20 percent of IV drug users in the county." A study by the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus earlier this year found that 40 percent of new AIDS infections, 75 percent of those among women and children, are caused by dirty needles. While African Americans make up 18 percent of the county's population, they make up 41 percent of its AIDS cases. Meredith told us he hopes the county will be more willing to fund needle exchange under Gray Davis's administration. He hopes Davis will sign legislation allowing local governments to fund needle exchange programs -- legislation vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson several times. County supervisor Mary King says she doesn't anticipate much opposition to the idea. "It is a practical approach that doesn't increase the use of illegal drugs and just helps to spare some lives," she told us. Six federal studies have shown that needle exchange programs don't encourage drug use -- and cut the spread of HIV by a third. Still, others on the board are wary. Supervisor Gail Steele, for one, says she'll need more convincing. "That could be quite an expenditure," she told us. "I would have to be convinced that it would be fair and appropriate to give all this money for this purpose and not for another, like [preventing] youth violence." Activists insist needle exchanges save money in the long run. As David Modersbach of NEED told us, "Giving someone clean needles is a lot less expensive than treating a person with HIV."