Pubdate: Mon, 16 Aug, 1999
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 1999 San Francisco Chronicle
Section: page A22
Related: More articles on needle exchange & other harm reduction measures
are available at


THERE IS NO longer any doubt that needle exchanges help reduce the
transmission of AIDS among intravenous drug users, and it's high time that
California legalizes such programs.

"Each year 8,000 Californians are infected with HIV, and injection drug use
is the second leading cause of those infections," says Regina Aragon,
public policy director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

About 25 percent of new infections are directly or indirectly related to
intravenous drug use. Dirty needles are the main source of AIDS infection
in heterosexuals, females and newborn babies.

In a practical response to a deadly public health problem, Assemblywoman
Kerry Mazzoni, D-San Rafael, has authored a measure (AB518) to allow local
governments to authorize needle exchange programs.

The bill would amend current state law, which bans distribution or
possession of hypodermic needles without a prescription.

Besides helping to keep tainted needles off the streets, exchange programs
are an inexpensive way of reaching drug addicts at a cost of 10 cents per
syringe. The cost of lifetime treatment for an AIDS patient is estimated at
nearly $120,000.

San Francisco has been in the forefront of needle exchanges, distributing
about 2.1 million syringes a year, and it works. The program, which has
operated legally since 1993 under a local health emergency, has been
praised as a model by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Even the federal government, which refuses to fund such programs, concedes
needle exchanges dramatically reduce AIDS transmissions and do not
encourage illegal drug use.

The Mazzoni bill does not mandate needle exchanges, but it would allow
California cities and counties to establish them if they choose to.

AB518 has already passed in the Assembly and now faces a vote in the
Senate. It is a humane, sensible and life-saving measure that deserves an
aye vote in the Senate and the signature of Governor Davis. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Thunder