February 2, 2006
Delaware has the nation's fifth-highest HIV infection rate, and about 43 percent of the state's AIDS cases are attributed to IV drug use, compared with just 25 percent nationally. Delaware law requires a prescription to buy or possess a hypodermic needle, even for diabetics.
For years, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East) has pushed for a bill that would create a Division of Public Health-run pilot needle exchange program in Wilmington. Under the provisions of SB 60, a mobile health van would exchange needles and offer HIV testing, health counseling, and other services to encourage users to seek treatment.
Henry said the need for SB 60 is critical, especially in her community, which is the epicenter of the state's HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Though it was approved by the Senate last spring, SB 60 has encountered significant resistance in the House. "There's a lot of opposition and concern," said House Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith (R-Clair Manor), noting that legislators worry the bill could encourage drug use.
Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker supports SB 60, and in February 2004, the City Council approved a resolution urging the General Assembly to pass it. However, city Police Chief Michael Szczerba opposes the bill, arguing that "a needle exchange program sends a contradictory and harmful message to the citizens of Wilmington, especially our children." Szczerba's view has bolstered opposition in the House.
Henry remains hopeful this is the year her bill becomes law. Noting the resistance from local law enforcement, Henry said she will find police chiefs and other law enforcement officials from other communities with needle exchanges to offer testimony on their experiences.