Baltimore Health Chief Touts Needle-Exchange Programs in San Diego Newspaper
With San Diego debating the implementation of a needle-exchange program, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson discusses Baltimore's program in a San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed, pointing out that the initiative "has done exactly what it was set up to do" -- reduce the incidence of HIV among drug users and move them into "intensive" drug treatment. According to Beilenson, the program lowered the incidence of HIV among participants by 40% compared to other drug users in Baltimore, and placed 1,500 participants into intensive drug treatment with a 75% success rate, "despite the fact that our clients are among the most hard core, difficult to reach drug addicts in the city." He adds that the "terrible consequences" of needle exchange -- including higher crime rates, dirty needles "littering the streets and a dangerous message being sent to kids" -- "prophesied in recent newspaper editorials" remain unfounded. Citing "extensive studies" by Johns Hopkins University researchers, Beilenson writes that the areas surrounding the city's needle-exchange sites have experienced "significant decreases" in discarded needles and crime, compared to "other drug-infested areas without a nearby needle-exchange site." In addition, he points out that in a study of more than 1,000 students in four Baltimore high schools, "including one located only a block from a needle-exchange site," needle exchange did not "encourage" drug use. Beilenson concludes, "The bottom line: there is absolutely no scientific or medical reason to continue to oppose the implementation of well-run needle-exchange programs. San Diegans must understand that it is simply politics that is preventing this life-saving effort from getting under way" (Beilenson, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.