California County’s Needle-Exchange Program May Close Due to Inadequate Funding
A needle-exchange program in Contra Costa County, Calif. -- which was established four years ago and provides more than 35,000 clean needles to an estimated 700 drug users in the area each year -- is almost out of money, and the program may be discontinued, the Contra Costa Times reports. Community Health Empowerment/Exchange Works, a private agency, currently administers the program with $262,000 in funding from grants and foundations, and the county Health Services Department contributes $25,000 for syringes. The agency has already spent this year's allotted funds, and Christine Leivermann, director of the county's AIDS program, said that the Health Department does not have the available funds to save the program. Health officials today are scheduled to ask the Board of Supervisors to allocate additional funds for the program. "I know that the cost of needle exchange as a prevention is a fraction of the cost of treating people with AIDS," Supervisor John Gioia said. However, he added that county supervisors do not have the discretionary money to keep the program afloat. Other California counties spend "far more" on their needle-exchange programs, including $600,000 annually in San Francisco and $500,000 annually in Santa Clara, according to Alex Kral, director of Urban Health Study at the University of California-San Francisco. "Contra Costa is in the minority of counties that don't adequately fund their needle exchange programs," he added (Felsenfeld, Contra Costa Times, 2/8).
Vermont CARES Seeks Clarification of Health Department Rules
In related news, Vermont CARES, a not-for-profit group that runs a needle-exchange program in that state, has announced that it will continue to run its program provided that it receives clarification of new state health department requirements for such programs, the Associated Press reports. Vermont CARES is seeking clarification of a health department directive requiring them to provide a one-for-one needle exchange in which health workers must collect dirty needles before distributing clean ones. "We are seriously concerned about requiring program participants to amass potentially infected needles, increasing the likelihood of needle sticks," Kendall Farrell, executive director of Vermont CARES, said. Other conditions recently proposed by the state health commissioner include the formalization of the program's community advisory board, the establishment of a formal agreement between the program and Tri-County Substance abuse services to incorporate treatment referrals and counseling and the creation of a community-based means of evaluating and reporting on the effectiveness of the program (Associated Press, 2/8).