San Diego City Council Approves Needle-Exchange Pilot Program
San Diego will implement a one-year needle-exchange program after the City Council voted 5-4 on Tuesday to declare a public health emergency and authorize the pilot project aimed at curbing the spread of diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Under the program, a needle-dispensing van will visit city neighborhoods with a high incidence of drug-related arrests. Clean needles will be given in a "one-on-one" exchange, with no more than two needles exchanged at a time. The Union-Tribune reports that the van will be required to stay at least three blocks away from schools (Huard, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/28). The $334,000 program will be funded entirely by the not-for-profit Alliance Healthcare Foundation (Perry, Los Angeles Times, 11/28). Alliance representative Linda Lloyd said that the program, which will be run by a not-for-profit organization selected by the foundation, will probably start in mid-April.
Public Health vs. Drug Use
Supporters said that the program is needed to curb the county's rising number of hepatitis C cases, which have increased 50% between 1998 and 1999. However, opponents, including Mayor Dick Murphy (R) and Police Chief David Bejarano, said the program would encourage drug use and foster crime. Bejarano also expressed concern that a needle-exchange program would attract addicts from other cities. Murphy said, "We are here balancing public health concerns with public safety concerns. If we are trying to make San Diego the city that has the lowest crime rate in the nation we should not support a needle exchange." The program will be evaluated after one year to determine its impact on HIV and hepatitis infection rates and "whether it encourages drug abuse," the Union-Tribune reports (San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/28).