The Allegheny County Board of Health yesterday endorsed development of a needle exchange program for intravenous drug users as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS and hepatitis. Members of the board will form a panel, begin to establish policies and procedures, select an administrator, and pick either a permanent site for the exchanges or a mobile unit that can travel among neighborhoods. Dr. Bruce Dixon, county Health Department director, said he hoped the panel would be formed by December and no later than March.
Board members wish to allow needle exchange for public health reasons, but the consensus among members was that the department would regulate -- but not fund -- a pilot program. The volunteer organization Prevention Point Pittsburgh (PPP) has offered clean needles to IV drug users for more than six years. If it is chosen to head the pilot program, PPP will receive funding from sources reluctant to give to an illegal activity. PPP currently distributes about 6,000 needles per week to people who come from about 40 Pittsburgh neighborhoods and from as far away as Johnstown. The number is expected to drastically increase with county backing.
State law prohibits possession of non-prescribed syringes. But other communities, like Philadelphia, have declared intravenous drug use a public health emergency, exempting the programs from the state law and instituting needle exchange programs run by the public health departments.
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