Fresno County Supervisors Ask Health Officer To Investigate Whether Injection Drug Use Qualifies as Public Health Crisis
The Fresno County, Calif., Board of Supervisors on Tuesday called on County Health Officer Edward Moreno to investigate whether injection drug use in the area has reached the level of a public health crisis, the Fresno Bee reports (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 9/28). The action comes in response to a Fresno County Grand Jury interim report released in June that recommends the county establish a needle-exchange program to prevent the transmission of bloodborne diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C. Although county supervisors have considered needle-exchange programs in previous years, they have not implemented the programs for various reasons, including concerns about liability if a person were stuck by a needle distributed by the county. However, under a state law (AB 136) passed in 1999, California counties and their agents are protected from criminal prosecution for operating needle-exchange programs. The grand jury report says that the supervisors should enact a needle-exchange program using AB 136 and another state law (SB 1159) that allows cities and counties to authorize pharmacies to sell up to 10 sterile syringes at one time to an adult without a prescription. The report cites a study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Urban Health that found that the county had 173 injection drug users for every 10,000 residents, the highest of any U.S. metropolitan area (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/12). If Moreno found that a health crisis exists, supervisors then could declare a public health emergency, making way for the authorization of a legal needle-exchange program (Fresno Bee, 9/28).
Sacramento County, Calif., Should Allow Needle Exchange, Editorial Says
When the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors "pandered to the paranoia" that a needle-exchange program would "result in dirty needles strewn on the streets, ... it was embarrassing," a Sacramento Bee editorial says. According to the editorial, the issue of needle exchanges "isn't about condoning illegal drug use but preventing the spread of dangerous diseases and saving the government money." There is a "mountain" of evidence that shows that a clean needle "in the hands of a drug addict could save taxpayers up to $40,000 a year for every prevented case of hepatitis C" and that the programs do not increase drug use, the editorial says, adding that the pharmacists that participate in the voluntary program "would be doing the county a great service -- if only the supervisors would let them" (Sacramento Bee, 9/28).