Delaware Senate Approves Bill That Would Authorize Needle-Exchange Program in Wilmington
The Delaware Senate on Thursday approved 20-1 a bill (SB 209) that would allow a pilot needle-exchange program in Wilmington, Del., the Wilmington News Journal reports (Jackson, Wilmington News Journal, 6/11). The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D), would establish a five-year pilot program in which state health workers would travel by van to several locations throughout the city distributing clean hypodermic needles to injection drug users. The measure aims to reduce HIV transmission through needle sharing. Although Wilmington Mayor James Baker (D) and the City Council support the measure, Police Chief Michael Szczerba opposes the bill. He has said that a needle-exchange program would weaken drug laws and "send contradictory and harmful messages to our children." Baker said he supports the needle-exchange program because it will help the city reach its Healthy Wilmington 2010 goal of reducing HIV prevalence by 20% over the next six years (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/9).
State House Majority Leader Wayne Smith (R) said he believes the measure will have some difficulty in the state House, the News Journal reports. He added, "I think there will be significant opposition to this because I think it is sending exactly the wrong message to people. I think it sends the message that we are condoning drug use." Henry said that the measure is not "about sending messages, it's about saving lives. That's the most important thing that we can do here." House Speaker Terry Spence (R) said he is "concerned about the example [the bill] set[s]," adding, "But I am also aware of the very serious problem we have in the city." Gregory Patterson, a spokesperson for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D), said that the governor has not yet developed a position on the bill, the News Journal reports. He added that the measure will receive "serious consideration" if it reaches her desk because of the problems facing Wilmington, according to the News Journal. Delaware's HIV/AIDS prevalence rate ranks fifth nationwide, and most of the cases occur in the Wilmington area, the News Journal reports (Wilmington News Journal, 6/11).