Pubdate: Wed, 25 August 1999
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 1999 The Orange County Register
Author: Steve Lawrence, The Associated Press


Legislation: Supporters Say It Would Curb The Spread Of Aids; Opponents Say
It Would Facilitate Drug Use.

Sacramento - Trying to slow the spread of AIDS, the Legislature sent Gov.
Gray Davis a bill Tuesday that would let cities and counties set up
needle-exchange programs for drug addicts.

The measure would authorize programs under which addicts could trade used
hypodermic needles for new ones in an attempt to reduce the transmission of
AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases through needle sharing.

"What we are saying is that even the life of a drug addict has some
semblance of sacredness to it," Senate President Pro Team John Burton, D-San
Francisco, said before the Senate approved the bill, 21-18.

The proposal by Assembly-woman Kerry Mazzoni, D-San Rafael, passed the
Assembly in April.

Attempts to enact needle-exchange programs have had a rocky history in
California. There have been at least six other needle-exchange bills
introduced since 1993. They either died in the Legislature or were vetoed by
then-Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

Davis' office said the Democratic governor has not taken a position on the
Mazzoni bill.

Current state law, with a few exceptions, prohibits the furnishing,
possession or use of hypodermic needles or syringes without a doctor's

At least 15 other states have authorized needle-exchange programs, although
there are exchange programs operating in mire than twice that many states,
according to Mazzoni's office.

Four California cities - Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Cruz
- - and Marin County have adopted emergency ordinances allowing needle exchanges.

Other local governments interested in approving needle exchanges have held
off because of fear of court challenges, said Regina Aragon, public-policy
director for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

"It's very important that communities get the clarification they need, that
local law enforcement gets clear direction," she said.

Supporters of the Mazzoni bill said studies have shown that exchange
programs reduce the spread of the AIDS cases in San Francisco is low
compared with those in cities without needle exchanges.

Opponents questioned the accuracy of those studies.

Sen. Tim Leslie, R-Roseville, said the measure sends a mixed message to
young people about drug use and would bring more people into heroin use than
it would protect.

"I've got an awful lot of dead friends who were the victims of these
needles," said Sen. Steve Peace D-El Cajon. "We don't need the government
getting into the business of being the supplier."

Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Los Angeles, said needle exchanges reduce the
littering of used needles that poses a threat to children.

"I still get thanks today from residents who no longer find needles behind
their houses," said Alarcon, a former city councilman.

- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D