Needle Exchange Becomes Issue in California Race for Open U.S. House Seat
Former California Sen. Diane Watson (D), a candidate in the race to fill the seat of the late Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Calif.), has criticized challenger Noel Irwin Hentschel (R) for sending out a flier denouncing Watson's support of needle-exchange programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The flier describes Watson as someone who "wants to give free needles to heroin addicts" and contains a "graphic photograph" of a person with a needle in his arm. The mailer criticized Watson for sponsoring three bills during the 1990s that would have authorized the creation of needle-exchange programs to stem the spread of HIV. Although those bills were vetoed by former Gov. Pete Wilson (R), a similar bill creating a statewide needle exchange was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis (D) last year. During a public forum between the candidates, Hentschel said that Watson's bills "promot[e] needle use," adding, "It is sending a message to our children that it's OK to use drugs, just go down and pick up the needle that you need." Watson replied that needle-exchange laws require a used needle to be exchanged before a clean one can be distributed. "It is a public health risk-reduction policy," she said, adding that addicts who exchange needles will also be given drug counseling. Former Reform Party vice presidential candidate Ezola Foster, who is also running for Dixon's seat, also criticized needle-exchange programs. "If a person is a drug addict and using contaminated needles, what makes you think he is concerned enough, responsible enough to take the time to turn it in? This is totally ridiculous," she said (Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, 5/31).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.