Riverside County Says No to Needle Program

Times Staff Writer

A divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected proposals to provide drug addicts with access to clean hypodermic needles, a program advocated by the county’s top health-care official to stem the spread of hepatitis C and AIDS.

The board voted 3 to 2 to forbid needle-exchange clinics in the county and to oppose state legislation that would allow pharmacists to sell needles without a prescription.

The supervisors who rejected the proposals said they agreed with the strong opposition expressed by the Riverside County sheriff and district attorney, and other police organizations across the state, who believe needle exchange programs promote the use of illegal drugs.

Health officials say drug addicts who share needles often pass along blood-borne diseases.


Riverside County has an estimated 12,000 intravenous-drug abusers, according to the county Community Health Agency.

About 60% of the county’s hepatitis C cases, 23% of its AIDS cases and 4% of its hepatitis B cases can be attributed to sharing syringes, according to the agency.

The proposals were Public Health Officer Gary Feldman’s third attempt to convince supervisors to declare a public-health emergency and allow the Inland AIDS Project to run a needle exchange in Riverside County.

“I don’t think that either needle exchange or pharmaceutical sales of needles or syringes is a complete solution to the problem,” Feldman said.


“But it gets us part of the way there.”