Source: Standard-Times (MA)
Pubdate: Thursday, 03 September, 1998
Author:  Rachel G. Thomas, Standard-Times staff writer


DARTMOUTH -- State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Howard H. Koh said
yesterday he would welcome any opportunity to resurrect plans for a
needle-exchange program for New Bedford.

During a press conference yesterday at the Bristol County House of
Correction, Dr. Koh said the idea had too much scientific merit to

"This is more than an exchange of hardware," said Dr. Koh, who
accepted the state post a year ago. "It is a chance to get to people
who are hard to reach."

Four communities in Massachusetts already have needle-exchange
programs: Provincetown, Boston, Cambridge and Northampton. A fifth,
Springfield, soon is expected to adopt one.

Dr. Koh said the state easily would support 10 needle-exchange

"I hope we can keep expanding," he said, adding many who oppose
programs are acting based on "overwhelming fear, not rational discussion.

"There is no evidence of increased drug use or of any crime near an
exchange site.

"We know (needle exchange) is helpful," Dr. Koh said. "That is the
international consensus."

Proponents often have said New Bedford's high incidence of drug use
meant such a program might save lives and encourage addicts to
consider treatment.

At least 20 percent of addicts exchanging needles at state-regulated
sites have entered treatment programs, said Andy Epstein, who works
with the health services unit at the state AIDS bureau.

Ms. Epstein added she did not know whether the addicts successfully
completed treatment.

State health department figures for 1997 revealed that 51 percent of
the 832 reported cases of AIDS were transmitted by intravenous drug
use. By comparison, nine percent of AIDS cases in 1997 were
transmitted by heterosexual sexual contact.

Figures for HIV infection are not available because they are not
required to be reported, a state health spokesman said.

Dr. Koh's predecessor, David Mulligan, also was a strong supporter of
needle-exchange to prevent the spread of HIV.

Mr. Mulligan spoke several times in New Bedford during the 1996 debate
over starting such a program in the city.

While the city council supported a program, voters in a referendum
rejected it by a 2-1 margin, effectively killing the initiative.

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Checked-by: Rich O'Grady