Harm Reduction: San Diego Reinstates Needle Exchange Program

The city of San Diego Wednesday rejoined the ranks of cities offering needle exchange programs as a public health service when the city council voted to reinstate the program. It had been dropped because of waning political support a year ago, but Wednesday it was re-approved on a 6-1 vote.

Needle exchanges were first approved in November 2001 and the program was launched in July 2002. It operated out of two centers, one in the East Village and one in North Park. During its operation, the program collected nearly 350,000 dirty needles and distributed more than 285,000 clean ones.

But until state law changed this year, cities or counties had to declare a public health emergency every two weeks to keep the programs operating. A year ago this month, the two-week vote failed, and the program was shut down.

Needle exchange programs are widely recognized to reduce the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C by reducing the sharing of syringes. But some opponents accuse them of promoting or facilitating drug use.

Luana Stines, a pastor who addressed the council was one of them. "They don't need another needle," she said. "They need direction." Better to spend the money on faith-based counseling, she suggested.

No taxpayer funds are being used in San Diego. Alliance Healthcare, a local nonprofit that ran the program, has pledged $386,400 to fund it for the next two years.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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