For Immediate Release: June 4, 2007
California to Fund Needle Exchange Programs for the First Time,
Governor Passage of Legislation Still Needed to Purchase Syringes
SACRAMENTO -- For the first time, the state of California will fund some needle exchange programs. On June 1, the HIV Education and Prevention Services Branch of the Office of AIDS announced awards totaling $2.25 million of direct state funding to Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs). Ten syringe exchange programs were awarded for $75,000 a year each for three years. Community-based organizations that operate SEPs and local health jurisdictions in areas where SEPs are approved for operation were awarded the grants.
Because of a California law that denies the use of state funds to purchase syringes themselves, this funding will be dedicated to improving access to sterile syringes by increasing SEP operating hours, purchasing non-syringe operating materials, expanding syringe exchange to new locations, adding staff or improving compensation for existing staff as well as adding outreach workers, to encouraging clients of SEPs to test for HIV and HCV and link clients to medical care when appropriate. Funds may also be used to add services, such as wound care, that improve overall health and wellness for injection drug users.
Assemblymember John Laird is sponsoring a bill, AB 110, to change the state law that denies the use of state HIV prevention funds for the purchase of syringes for clean needle and syringe exchange projects. The same bill was passed by a strong majority in the California legislature last year, but was pulled when Governor Schwarzenegger threatened a veto. Proponents are hopeful that this funding from the Office of AIDS will demonstrate the need for state commitment to such programs.
"This funding represents a positive sea change in terms of support for needle exchange in California, said Hilary McQuie of the Harm Reduction Coalition, "But there are over 30 other programs in CA that don't get any state funding and survive on a shoestring, while courageously serving as a bridge between active injection drug users and medical and social services, reducing the spread of HIV and other blood borne diseases, and reducing the number of syringes discarded in public places. The governor should follow the lead of the Office of AIDS, and let local communities use their prevention dollars as they see fit."
According to the Center for Disease Control, over a third of adult AIDS cases are associated directly or indirectly with injection drug use. In California, sharing contaminated injection equipment accounts for 20 percent of new AIDS cases. State data also suggests that more than 1500 new HIV infections occur annually due to syringe sharing. Seventy-five percent of HIV infections among women and children are related to sharing of injection equipment, and communities of color are hit especially hard. In addition to the human toll, the cost of medical treatment ranges from $200,000 to $600,000 over the lifetime of one HIV patient.
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The Harm Reduction Coalition is a national advocacy and capacity-building organization that promotes the health and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by drug use. For more information, see www.harmreduction.org