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San Diego Council OKs Needle Exchange Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a 5-4 vote, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday declared a health emergency and authorized a yearlong trial program to provide clean needles to drug addicts to prevent the spread of AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases.

The state’s second-largest city has been one of the few large cities in the nation without an officially sanctioned needle exchange program.

“It’s time for San Diego to catch up,” said Councilman Ralph Inzunza, who voted for the program. “People are dying, and we’re not doing anything about it. I don’t think telling a heroin addict to ‘just say no’ is the answer.”

AIDS and hepatitis C, linked to the sharing of dirty needles by addicts, are on the rise in San Diego. Hepatitis C has increased by 50% in two years, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

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The nonprofit Alliance Healthcare Foundation will provide $334,000 for the program so that city funds are not needed. Needle exchange in California was authorized under a bill signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999.

A city task force, whose chairman is a medical professor at UC San Diego, recommended a trial program under careful supervision. That recommendation was opposed by the police chief, district attorney and county sheriff.

Councilman Jim Madaffer, who voted against the program, called it as nonsensical as providing “safer bullets to gang members. . . . Handing out needles is, to me, promoting drug use.”

Bill Farrar, president of the San Diego Police Officers Assn., predicted that drug addicts who receive clean needles from a neighborhood van will remain in the area to commit burglaries. Addicts are “opportunistic thieves,” Farrar said.

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The city program will involve only neighborhoods within the city limits. The county Board of Supervisors, which sets policy for smaller cities and unincorporated areas, is opposed to needle exchange.

Under the new program, the needle-dispensing van must stay eight blocks away from a school. Also, a council member can veto the van from stopping in his or her district.


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