Pubdate: Sat, 06 Nov 1999
Source: San Luis Obispo County Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 1999 The Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112
Fax: 805.781.7905
Author: Christine Hanley, Associated Press


FRESNO - A national expert on needle exchanges came to the defense of three
activists arrested for passing out syringes to addicts, testifying Friday
that their work saves lives without driving up drug use.

"That's what one does when trying to reduce the spread of HIV in America,"
said Dr. Peter Lurie, who has led numerous studies on the effectiveness of
needle exchange programs.

Using a Central Valley analogy, Lurie testified that the clean needles - by
replacing dirty needles - are wiping out HIV in the same way that
pesticides remove mosquitoes and other so-called "vectors" that spread farm

Lurie was called as the only witness at a special evidentiary hearing in
the case against Audrey Alorro, Jean Rodriguez and Bobby Bowens, all
members of the San Joaquin Valley Exchange Works. They each face a
misdemeanor count of possessing a hypodermic syringe without a
prescription, and could get up to a year in jail.

"He really is 'the' key witness," said one of their four attorneys, William
Simpich. "The case turns on his testimony."

The group hands out about 20,000 needles a month at parks, street corners
and other areas where the local drug scourge thrives.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones will decide whether the
activists can argue at their Feb. 7 criminal trial that there is a need for
their services. The judge did not immediately rule.

The defendants, who hope to have the charges dropped, are pushing for a law
legalizing needle-exchange programs across California.

Legislation signed last month by Gov. Gray Davis allows individual counties
to authorize needle swaps, buy only after first declaring
states-of-emergency. These declarations must be renewed every two weeks.

No federal law governs needle exchange programs. Connecticut, Florida,
Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming have decriminalized the
sale of syringes without a prescription. Several other states grant
exceptions for exchange programs.

Alorro characterized California's measure as a weak attempt by state
officials to shirk responsibilty. So far, Fresno County officials have
opted not to declare any emergencies, she noted.

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