San Diego Says No to Needle Exchange Leaders Claim Plan Encourages Drug Use

Article excerpt

SAN DIEGO -- To the things that set this region apart from most urban areas, add this: San Diego County has no official needle-exchange program for drug addicts.

The American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say such efforts can reduce the spread of disease without increasing drug usage, but San Diego's conservative political leadership has been steadfast in its opposition.

A bill signed by California Gov. Gray Davis in 1999 authorizes such programs, provided there is governmental oversight and they are part of a drug treatment effort.

Despite a dramatic rise in hepatitis C and fears among health professionals that the disease -- commonly passed along by dirty needles -- could spread to non-drug users, the needle-exchange issue is no longer under discussion at the all-Republican county Board of Supervisors, which sets county health policy.

The San Diego City Council in October took a tentative step toward authorizing a needle-exchange program. Council members, who set health policy in California's second-largest city, voted 5-2 to proclaim a state of health emergency because of the rising rate of hepatitis C and HIV infection.

But the first action taken in December by newly elected Mayor Dick Murphy and four new council members was to rescind that declaration, which under state law can be a precursor to a needle-exchange program.

"I'm not going to aid and abet criminal activities," Councilman Jim Madaffer, elected in November, said last week.

The feeling among many San Diego politicians is that much of the nation is following a dangerously misguided notion about drug use. …