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Vermont Activists: Funding Needed to Prevent HIV Infection

July 18, 2002

At the Green Mountain Needle Co-op in Burlington, Vt., heroin users come once a week during a two-hour period to get new, free needles. Those needles are donated and, until recently, program workers have been able to keep up the supply.

"Right now we have 1,000 syringes donated per month," said Tom Dalton, a program coordinator with the Howard Center for Human Services. "That's enough, but the number of supplies is not going to meet the demand with the increases that we're seeing." The programs are allowed in Vermont but no state money has been allocated for the needle exchanges. Both this program and one in Brattleboro run solely on private grants and donations. Federal funding for needle exchange is prohibited.

In 1999, the Legislature approved developing programs that would give drug users clean needles to inject drugs in an effort to prevent HIV infection. Gov. Howard Dean supported the initiative. But now the initiative is not very visible. "It has fallen below the radar screen," said Sen. James Leddy (D-Chittenden). "In many respects, the public preoccupation has been about the larger heroin problem," Leddy said. "In terms of specific responses, there's been virtually no response."

For Alice Diorio, president of the Vermont Harm Reduction Coalition, this is a big source of frustration. "With the heroin problem the way it is, it's just incredible that we're not doing more," she said. "Not being able to use federal funds to pay for needle exchange, the state really should be doing something to help fund this."

The number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction in Vermont has more than doubled since 1999, according to the Health Department. Rod Copeland, who directs its HIV/AIDS program, said the department believes that needle exchange is effective. However, the department has requested no funding for needle exchange since the programs were approved in 1999, according to Leddy. The department is implementing an aggressive HIV testing system, Copeland said.

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Excerpted from:
Associated Press
07.13.02; Krista Larson




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