Fresno County, Calif., Officials Approve Needle-Exchange Program
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors in California on Tuesday approved a one-year needle-exchange pilot program, the Fresno Bee reports. Supervisors voted 3-2 in support of the program, which was proposed by County Health Officer Edward Moreno and will provide injection drug users with clean needles in an effort to curb the spread of HIV and other bloodborne diseases. Supervisors said that they understand concerns from some law enforcement officials about illegal drug use but that the county needs ways to reduce the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Volunteers have been illegally dispensing 6,000 to 8,000 clean needles each Saturday to IDUs in the county, according to advocate Dallas Blanchard, who has been distributing clean needles for about 13 years. According to the Bee, although these efforts have been tolerated by police, an official program previously had never been endorsed by the Board of Supervisors, which last voted against a needle-exchange program in 2006.
The program will include a needle exchange once weekly at The Living Room, a support center for people living with HIV/AIDS operated by the not-for-profit agency WestCare. County substance abuse staff and health workers will offer information about drug treatment options and referrals. According to Jena Adams -- a communicable disease specialist with the county's Department of Public Health -- health workers also will offer HIV and hepatitis C tests. Physician Marc Lasher also will offer no-cost medical care to IDUs who come to the needle exchange. Lasher credited Moreno for successfully proposing a treatment-based initiative that helped the needle-exchange program win approval. According to Alessandra Ross of the state Office of AIDS, 17 counties and three cities in the state have needle-exchange programs. A 2005 study found that 15,169 IDUs live in Fresno County and that 11,377 likely are living with hepatitis C (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 12/17).