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Issue: Should the City Sponsor a Clean Needle-Exchange Program to Help Prevent the Spread of AIDS?

April 18, 1993|Iris Yokoi, Times community correspondent

Vera Owens, chief operations officer, Minority AIDS Project

"It's illegal to have a needle-exchange program, but we think it would save more lives if they did have one. It is not promoting the use of drugs; it is saving lives. Drug users have interactions with people who don't use drugs too. You might have a woman involved with a man and she doesn't even know he's a drug user and that he's HIV-positive. (Prohibiting needle-exchange programs) is one more way of Americans saying they don't care about the poor."

Ruth Slaughter, director of AIDS prevention division, PROTOTYPES/Woman and AIDS Risk Network

"We truly believe we need to have more drug treatment programs and that's the No. 1 priority, but until that time, we need to keep people safe. It's been proven in New Haven, Conn., Seattle and New York City that needle-exchange programs have lowered the rate of HIV and AIDS. The New Haven program also showed that the crime rate dropped. But needle-exchange programs must be run by community-based groups that have experience . . . working with drug users and are able to link them with treatment programs. We at this time don't have a cure for AIDS . . . so we need to help people in as many ways as we can. This is just one small step. What we really need are more drug treatment programs, AIDS research, AIDS care and information."

John Cho, director of planning development, Koryo Health Foundation Community Clinic

"Personally, I'm against the idea. But as for the outcome, I know it brings a reduction in HIV diseases and hepatitis B. I can't deny the positive outcome. But I think, for me, it's along the same lines as legalizing marijuana. Certainly, it's a public health issue. But I don't feel government intervention is appropriate. Today, it's needle-exchange. Yesterday it was seat belts. What's next tomorrow? A needle-exchange program is one very small solution to the problem. Government and law enforcement should focus on curtailing drug trafficking and distribution in the area and on practical rehabilitation efforts and education for young kids. Plus, a needle-exchange program may be viewed as government is encouraging or allowing people to use drugs."

Gilbert Fernandez, AIDS outreach coordinator, El Centro del Pueblo

"The point is to save lives, and anything that will help to stop the spread of AIDS. The fact is: People are sharing needles. We run into people who are injecting in alleys, in hold houses . . . on the sidewalk. It's supposed to be one time that you use (a needle). You're dealing with an individual that is using (drugs) already. Whatever you say has no bearing on whether he's going to continue using or not. So with a needle-exchange program, they don't have to go look for a needle. And it's more than just giving out needles; you're making contact with that individual . . . you counsel that individual (about) drug treatment programs, AIDS testing. . . . It's giving out education."

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