BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Tristate's leading group of AIDS experts issued a statement Tuesday supporting the need for a needle exchange program in Cincinnati, despite heavy political opposition.
"The Greater Cincinnati AIDS Consortium supports the availability of needle exchange programs which include adherence to public health and infection control guidelines, access for referral to treatment and rehabilitation services, and education about the transmission of HIV disease," reads the policy statement from the consortium.
AROUND THE U.S.|
Nationwide, at least 113 legal and illegal needle exchange programs operate in 80 cities in 32 states -- including two in Cleveland -- according to a study by the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.
The statement was approved 10-0, with five abstentions.
The consortium includes representatives from more than a dozen agencies and institutions that provide services for people with AIDS. Those organizations include AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, AIDS Volunteers of Northern Kentucky, Caracole Inc., Children's Hospital Medical Center, the Hamilton County Department of Human Services and the Cincinnati Health Department.
The consortium cited statistics from the National Commission on AIDS that 32 percent of all adult AIDS cases and 71 percent of all female AIDS cases in the United States are related to injected drug use.
Consortium members said the next step is to increase advocacy efforts for a needle exchange program, including pushing for changes in drug paraphernalia laws in the interest of public health.
Medical experts widely agree that needle exchanges help prevent a common cause of HIV infection -- drug users who share needles and other preparation works. Studies also indicate that needle exchange programs do not encourage more people to use drugs.
However, the Cincinnati Health Department has been reluctant to launch a needle exchange program, citing a lack of community support, a lack of urgent need and conflicts with state law banning the distribution of drug paraphernalia.
Despite support from medical experts, any local needle exchange program would face a political fight from conservative, religious and anti-drug groups concerned about the message such a program would send. City Councilman Charlie Winburn has pledged to block use of any city money or outside funds to start one.
Reflecting all this, the new Greater Cincinnati HIV prevention plan -- adopted in March to guide AIDS-related spending through 2001 for all of Hamilton, Clermont and Butler counties -- lists launching a needle exchange program as a second-level priority.
That means no money, because there isn't enough funding to support several high-priority prevention programs.