Local and Community News
California: Contra Costa Needle Exchange Funds Drying Up
February 11, 2003
Contra Costa County's needle exchange program could soon shut its doors for lack of funding. A private agency, Community Health Empowerment/Exchange Works, administers the program for the northern California county. The agency's $262,000 annual budget derives mainly from grants and foundations, with the county's Health Services Department contributing $25,000 for syringes. The program provides over 35,000 clean needles monthly to intravenous drug users in Richmond, North Richmond, Pittsburg and Bay Point. Now the program's funding has dried up, and this year's county allotment has been spent. Agency officials notified the health department that they are on the verge of closing.Adapted from:
Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, who urged the county to establish the program in 1999, said the supervisors do not have the discretionary funds to save the exchange, which receives a small portion of the county's $1.3 million AIDS prevention budget. "I know that the cost of needle exchange as a prevention is a fraction of the cost of treating people with AIDS," he said. "And there are ways we can support needle exchange without buying the needles."
From the beginning of the epidemic through 2002, 1,502 Contra Costans have died of AIDS, according to health department statistics. Roughly 4,900 have contracted HIV. Urban Health Study, a research center at University of California-San Francisco, reported that more than 50 percent of Richmond exchange participants said they had stopped sharing needles as a result of the program, compared with a 40 percent average statewide.
By California law, cities and counties can fund needle exchanges if they declare an official state of emergency for AIDS and hepatitis C among drug users. Nearby counties such as Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara spend from $500,000 to $640,000 for programs with needle exchanges as central components. "Contra Costa is in the minority of counties that don't adequately fund their needle exchange programs," said Alex Kral, director of Urban Health Study. The county's other AIDS prevention activities include educational outreach at schools, community events, and direct street outreach in high-risk areas.
Contra Costa Times (California)
02.08.03; Peter Felsenfeld