New York Mayor Backs Needle-Exchange Program

NEW YORK - The Harm Reduction Coalition reports that Mayor Mike Bloomberg has come out in support of needle exchange programs. "These programs have been operating in New York City for more than 10 years," the mayor said. "The sky has not fallen. Drug use and drug-related crime have not gone up. In fact, they've gone down."

Bloomberg drew a standing ovation from 1,500 listeners at the Community Planning Leadership Summit on HIV Prevention, sponsored by the National Minority AIDS Council. Audience members were all members of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-mandated Community Planning process for federal HIV prevention spending. At this time, the CDC does not provide funds for syringe exchange.

The New York State Health Department has authorized nine needle exchange programs in New York City. They currently operate in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. There are four more programs upstate.

Re-use of contaminated syringes is the leading source of HIV infection in New York City, accounting for 55,161 cases (43 percent of adult cases). Three-quarters of drug users infected with HIV are black or hispanic. Studies have also shown that sharing syringes is also a major source of hepatitis C infection.

Studies show a 50 percent drop in the rate of HIV among drug injectors as a result of needle exchange. Dr. Don C. DesJarlais of Beth Israel Medical Center has studied the epidemic since the 1980s. "We have tested injectors for HIV all over the city over time, and the rates of infection have dropped by at least half since these programs became legal." The state Department of Health began authorizing programs in 1992, providing legal access to sterile syringes for drug injectors.

"These programs don't just fight HIV. They've gotten thousands of people into drug treatment, housing, family services and AIDS care," says Amu Ptah of the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Syringe Exchange Programs and other groups have been working with the city on needle exchange since Bloomberg came into office. "Needle exchange is the most successful prevention strategy in the history of the epidemic," says Daliah Heller, director of an exchange in the Bronx. "When injectors use these programs, they don't just protect themselves. They protect their families and their communities."

Source: Harm Reduction Coalition