Policy & Politics
California: Fresno County Supervisors Withdraw Support for Needle Exchange
September 7, 2011
A longtime plan to legalize a grassroots needle exchange was shelved after the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted last week to withdraw support for the program.
The volunteer-run exchange has operated for nearly two decades with the goal of preventing the spread of blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis. Three years ago, program leaders struck a deal with the county to operate legally at a central Fresno clinic run by the drug treatment provider WestCare California. In addition to syringe exchange, the location would offer clients services ranging for temporary housing to drug rehabilitation. "It would have been a one-stop shop for drug users," said Jena Adams, a supervising disease specialist with the county Department of Public Health.
But at the Board of Supervisors' most recent meeting, members declined to sign off on the final plan. "It's a philosophical question whether you give someone the tools to continue an illegal behavior," said Supervisor Judy Case, a registered nurse who was one of three members to vote against the program.
Dr. Marc Lasher, who has provided free health care at the exchange for 14 years, accused the supervisors of "playing old-time moral politics."
Dallas Blanchard, director of the Fresno Needle Exchange Program, acknowledged that his group's tasks will be more difficult without county support. FNEP cannot be publicized and reach all of those in need, since it is technically illegal, he said. "We'll just continue on. And we'll work with whomever we can and get our program authorized in whatever fashion we can," he said.
FNEP dispenses 7,000 to 8,000 clean needles on the Saturdays it operates. Free medical care is provided from a school bus that often parks alongside the exchange. County health officials regularly offer disease screenings, as well.
09.06.2011; Kurtis Alexander
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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