New York City Borough of Queens To Launch Needle-Exchange Program
The New York City borough of Queens plans to launch its first needle-exchange program as soon as December in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases in the area, Long Island Newsday reports. The program will be run out of the AIDS Center of Queens County in Long Island City, N.Y., and will allow injection drug users to exchange an unlimited number of used needles for clean ones. "Syringe exchange will be a needed component of our harm reduction program, which deals with people where they're at, not where society wants them to be," ACQC Executive Director Philip Glotzer said (O'Mara, Long Island Newsday, 10/19). Previous proposals for needle-exchange programs in the borough have been thwarted by community opposition. For example, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had proposed that a mobile van be stationed near the Queensbridge public housing project, but some people in the neighborhood opposed the plan. New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden has said that the lack of a needle-exchange program in Queens is a concern because the number of HIV cases among injection drug users in parts of the borough is rising. In addition, AIDS-related complications are the leading cause of death for New York City residents between the ages of 25 and 44, according to city health department data. Needle-exchange programs have been implemented in the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/26). The health department aims to expand the program to the nearby communities of Jamaica, Far Rockaway and Corona, according to Newsday.
Establishing a needle-exchange program is "very important" because the area is "very toxic as far as the addicts and drugs are concerned," Cookie Ramos, a peer counselor at New York's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, said (Hack, Long Island Newsday, 10/19). New York City Council member Eric Gioia (D) said that HIV/AIDS is a "terrible scourge that must be confronted. It benefits everyone if the program succeeds," according to his spokesperson Eli Richlin (O'Mara, Long Island Newsday, 10/19). However, some people in the communities where the city health department hopes to expand the program "aren't necessarily happy about" the plans, according to Newsday. "This community has been a dumping ground for decades for state agencies for the needy," Jonathan Gaska, Community Board district manager in Far Rockaway, said, asking, "Do we really want another program? Do we need one?" According to Glotzer, needle-exchange programs do not attract more drug users into neighborhoods, nor do they increase crime and drug rates, Newsday reports (Hack, Long Island Newsday, 10/19).