Rhode Island Bill Aims To Ban State-Sponsored Needle-Exchange Program From Operating Near Parks, Schools and Churches
Two Rhode Island lawmakers recently introduced a bill in the General Assembly that aims to ban the operation of a state-sponsored needle and syringe distribution program within 300 yards of parks, schools and churches, the Providence Journal reported. The needle-exchange program, which is administered by the state Department of Health to prevent the spread of bloodborne diseases such as HIV, operates for two hours a week near a city park in Woonsocket. The legislators, who are opposed to the program, said that it could lead to crime when conducted in areas such as parks. "We just don't want it in a place where they are in such close proximity to children and the elderly," bill cosponsor Rep. Todd Brien (D) said, adding, "This could lead to [drug users] attracted to the needle exchange to commit a crime, turning to prostitution or breaking and entering to support a habit. These people should be in treatment centers." Paul Fitzgerald, CEO of AIDS Care Ocean State, said that the needle-exchange program is essential both for preventing the spread of diseases and for outreach counselors to work to get existing drug users into treatment programs. "There is a wealth of evidence that the most effective way to prevent transmission of HIV and AIDS among drug users is to provide adequate syringe access," Dr. Josiah Rich, an infectious disease specialist with Miriam Hospital and Brown University, who played a leading role in getting the state's needle-exchange program started, said, "This is a tremendously successful intervention, and [it] has not led to any rise of drug use." However, Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard was "emphatic" about having the needle-exchange van move elsewhere. "I don't want them in Woonsocket, and I will do whatever's necessary to get them out," Menard said (McFadden, Providence Journal, 1/30).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.