HEALTH WATCH : Needle Point

The Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote today on a resolution urging Gov. Pete Wilson to sign AB 260, now on his desk. The bill, similar to one he vetoed last year, would authorize pilot projects for the exchange of needles and syringes throughout the state to help stop the spread of AIDS. Under this bill, the supervisors could initiate an L.A. County exchange program.

California is one of 10 states that continue to criminalize the furnishing, possession or use of hypodermic needles or syringes without a prescription. But intravenous drug users still manage to get needles, legal or not. And too often those needles are dirty.

The sharing of contaminated needles is the primary means of HIV transmission among IV drug users. For that reason, IV drug users are the second-largest group at risk of infection with the virus that causes AIDS, and they are the primary source of heterosexual, female and perinatal transmission in California, the United States and Europe.

Although opponents raise concern that needle programs might foster drug abuse, exchanges across the country have served to substantially reduce new HIV infections. Also, when the programs are coupled with intensified outreach efforts they can act as an important bridge to effective drug treatment.


The City Council should follow the lead of the County Board of Supervisors, which has already endorsed AB 260. And Wilson should view a strong consensus among city and county officials on the issue as a clear signal that, this year, he should sign this vitally needed legislation.