San Francisco's Needle-Exchange Program Needs Reform

Armen Hareyan's picture
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San Francisco's Needle-Exchange Program

San Francisco's needle-exchange program has "reached the breaking pointas far as public trust" is concerned and "needs to be managed moresensibly," a San Francisco Chronicle editorial says (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8).

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Thecity's needle-exchange program, which began in 1992, distributes about2.4 million needles annually but only receives 65% to 70% of them backafter they are used. Under the current system, injection drug users canreturn their used syringes only during the hours needle exchanges orhealth clinics are open. Many unreturned needles have ended up in cityparks, playgrounds and other outdoor areas. San Francisco officials andnot-for-profit groups recently pledged to reform the city's program inresponse to public outcry over used syringes littering parks (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/6).

Theneedle-exchange program "amounts to a giveaway with no requirement orprovision for returning the needles or disposing of them safely," theeditorial says, adding that if IDUs "won't take responsibility, thenthe city needs to step in." According to the editorial, "Several stepsare worth trying" -- including providing safe disposals sites for IDUs,establishing more clinics to handle the influx of returned needles, andproviding homeless workers and park clean-up crews with portabledisposal boxes -- "though not all may work." The city also shouldconsider providing retractable syringes -- in which the needle fullyretracts into the syringe's barrel after one injection -- the editorialadds.

"It's a sad commentary on San Francisco's politics that weeven have to say that public safety must take priority over [IDUs']preferences," the editorial says, concluding, "It's time to tighten upthis program before it leads to a loss of innocent life" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8)
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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and signup for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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