Pubdate: Sat, 06 Nov 1999
Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 1999 The Fresno Bee
Author: Louis Galvan, The Fresno Bee
Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.


A Nationally Recognized Doctor Gives Pointed Testimony At Hearing.

A national expert on needle-exchange programs defended the actions of four
people arrested for distributing hypodermic needles without a prescription,
testifying Friday that their work stops the spread of AIDS and other diseases.

Dr. Peter Lurie of Washington, D. C., chief scientist for the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, said studies have shown that giving clean
hypodermic needles to drug addicts in exchange for used ones does not
increase drug use.

Lurie was the lone witness at a Fresno Superior Court evidentiary hearing
in the case against Jean Rodriguez, Bobby Bowens, Audrey Alorro and Amy
Joan Lindell. They each face a misdemeanor count of possessing a hypodermic
syringe without a prescription, and could get up to a year in jail.

Lurie's testimony before Fresno Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones will be
part of the record when the trial begins Feb. 7. The defendants are asking
the judge that they be allowed to argue there is a need for their services.

Jones has not been assigned the trial, however. His only role was to
preside over Friday's proceedings.

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

Rodriguez, Bowens and Alorro were working for the San Joaquin Valley
Exchange Works program when they were arrested in 1998 by Fresno police.
Lindell reportedly was not part of the group, but allegedly was caught
distributing needles.

Friday's hearing comes in the wake of new legislation signed by Gov. Davis
last month that establishes a procedure allowing each county to authorize a
needle-exchange program by declaring a "state of emergency."

In Fresno County, health officials determined that a local public emergency
was not warranted, Eric Villegas, supervising communicable disease
specialist for the health department, said last week.

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. In a news conference during the
court's noon recess, Jane Austin, director of the San Joaquin Valley
Exchange Works, and other supporters, said there are more than 15,000
injection drug users in Fresno, equal to the number in San Francisco.

The group hands out about 20,000 needles a month at parks, street corners
and other areas.

"Without a legal needle-exchange program in Fresno, injection drug users
will have to travel at least three hours to the closest needle-exchange
program, making it more likely that they will not be able to participate,"
said Alorro, one of the defendants.

Fresno County District Attorney Ed Hunt has said he has no intention of
dropping the misdemeanor charges against the defendants.

"I don't agree with needle exchange. If we give people who we know are
going to use heroin or injectable controlled substances a needle that is
professionally manufactured then we are not doing anyone any favors," Hunt
said last week.

Lurie, however, testified that needle-exchange programs have proven
themselves successful not only in this country, but in other parts of the

Lurie said eight federally funded studies have been conducted on the
programs, and all have reached the same conclusion: Needle-exchange
programs reduce the number of HIV infections among injection drug users,
their sex partners and their children.

Under questioning by prosecutor Ken Hahus, Lurie agreed that there are
other alternatives to help solve the problem, but they have not proven as

And what do drug users do while they are waiting? They continue to use
drugs, he said.

"Without it a needle-exchange program you are tying your hands, if not one
of your hands, behind your back," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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