Allegheny County, Pa., Board of Health To Draft Regulation Establishing Rules for Needle-Exchange Program
The Allegheny County, Pa., Board of Health on Wednesday at a meeting agreed to draft a regulation that would allow a local pilot needle-exchange program to continue to operate and ensure accountability of the program, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Prevention Point Pittsburgh operates its needle exchange as a pilot program, which was authorized in 2002 after the health board declared a "public health emergency," according to the Post-Gazette. The program aims to slow the spread of HIV and hepatitis C by providing injection drug users with clean needles. The Allegheny County Health Department last month held three public hearings on the program, during which most people expressed their support for continuing the program. The regulation, which has not yet been drafted, would have to go through a public comment period and be approved by the county council and Chief Executive Dan Onorato, health department spokesperson Guillermo Cole said, according to the Post-Gazette. County Health Director Bruce Dixon said that the health board's role would be to establish the rules under which the program operates and is held accountable, the Post-Gazette reports.
Tim Curges, acting chief of the health department's sexually transmitted diseases program, said that 96% of the people who spoke or sent letters during the previous comment period supported continuing the program. Dixon, noting that one opponent said that taxpayer money would be better spent on a flu vaccination program, said, "There's been a lot of confusion. The county does not fund or receive funding for needle exchange. There is no public money involved in this." Prevention Point Executive Director Renee Cox said, "I'm pretty optimistic that we're going to get support both from the board of health and county council. It's kind of been a slow process, but we're trying to cooperate as best we can." Prevention Point board member Caroline Acker expressed frustration that the program did not acquire more permanent status from the health board. "I am sorry that there's at least another two-month delay. It's very difficult for us to raise funds when we don't have secure status, and yet we can only go to the private sector to support this lifesaving work," Acker said. The program, which provides needle-exchange services every Sunday with an annual budget of $180,000, also offers HIV and hepatitis testing, case management services and treatment referrals. More than 2,000 people have registered to use the program, which serves about 200 people each week. According to Cox, about 50% of the people tested through the program have hepatitis C, the Post-Gazette reports (Srikameswaran, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/4).