Newsbrief: Bill to Restrict Needle Exchanges Gets Push in Rhode Island 3/28/03

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The Woonsocket, RI, City Council tried last week to jumpstart a bill sponsored by local representatives that would restrict needle exchange programs (NEPs) in the state. H 5248 would bar NEPs from operating within 300 yards of parks, schools and churches. The effort to restrict the scientifically proven HIV/AIDS prevention programs grew out of local anger at Department of Health-administered mobile NEPs that operated for two hours a week beside the 15-acre World War II Veterans Memorial Park near downtown, a popular gathering place for injection drug users.

In a March 19 vote, the council voted unanimously to support the bill, saying the NEP was a public safety threat and sent confusing messages to children. "I'm having a big problem with this," said Councilwoman Suzanne J. Vadenais. "What kind of message are we sending to our kids that says if you do drugs we have a van out there that'll give you free needles?"

Rep. Todd Brien (D-District 50) told the Providence Journal he sponsored the bill because the mobile NEP could cause crime. "We just don't want it in a place where they are in such close proximity to children and the elderly," said Brien, who is also a Woonsocket police detective. "This could lead drug users attracted to the needle exchange to commit a crime, turning to prostitution or breaking and entering to support a habit. These people should be in treatment centers."

The mobile NEP program was operated by ENCORE (Education, Needle Exchange, Counseling, Outreach and Referral), a harm reduction program of the states AIDS Care Ocean State agency that has operated NEPs in Providence for years. The Woonsocket program shut town temporarily in January after coming under fire from city officials. Health officials estimate that some 1,500 of the state's injection drug users are enrolled in NEPs, and suggest that the NEPs are playing a role in declining HIV infection rates.

"There is a wealth of evidence that the most effective way to prevent transmission of HIV and AIDS among drug users is to provide adequate syringe access," Brown University infectious disease specialist Dr. Josiah D. Rich told the Journal. "This is a tremendously successful intervention, and has not led to any rise of drug use." But local officials have their heads in the sand, he said. "The fact that this needle exchange program is there points out to the mayor and other officials that there is a problem, but they would prefer not to acknowledge it," Rich said. "It's not like drug users are coming into Woonsocket from other areas. They're already there."

The bill is currently awaiting action in the House Subcommittee on Health, Education and Welfare. Read it online at:

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Issue #280, 3/28/03 The Week Online Needs Your Help | Editorial: I Smuggled Coca Soap into the United States | Road to Vienna: British Government Chides International Narcotics Control Board on Cannabis Rescheduling Critique | Will Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Be Collateral Damage in Iraq War? | Maryland Legislature Rebuffs Drug Czar, Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, Awaits Governor's Signature | DRCNet Interview: Ed Forchion, the New Jersey Weedman | Newsbrief: DEA Issues Final Hemp Rule, Would Ban Hemp Food Products in Weeks, Hempsters Fight Back | Newsbrief: Bill to Allow Syringe Purchases Moving in Illinois Legislature | Newsbrief: Bill to Restrict Needle Exchanges Gets Push in Rhode Island | Newsbrief: Colombia to Get $100 Million Bounty for Supporting Iraq War | Newsbrief: More Americans Dead in Colombia | Newsbrief: Lawsuit Charges Chicago Cops with Pattern of Illegal Stops, Searches of Minorities | Newsbrief: Bush to Nominate Woman Prosecutor to Head DEA | Newsbrief: Silence on Pusherstrasse -- Christiania Drug Sellers Strike for Future of "Free City" | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Jobs at WOLA | The Reformer's Calendar

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