Needle exchange programs look to avoid budget axe
AIDS activists rallied on the steps of City Hall Monday to maintain the City Council to restore funding for needle exchange programs.
The issue is not about supporting someones drug habit, its about educating them on what drugs can do and preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS, said councilwoman Annabel Palma (D-the Bronx,) who has lead the fight on funding.
We are still at the forefront of this issue. We have made huge progress in New York City.
The city began syringe exchange programs in 1993 and has seen the number of intravenous drug users with HIV drop considerably over the last 15 years, from 6,630 reported cases to just 759 in 2004, according to the New York City Aids Housing Network, an umbrella organization.
Between September 20007 and April 2008 nearly 100,000 clean syringes were given out at various locations in the five boroughs
The impact in New York City has been extreme, said Joyce Rivera, executive director of the St. Anns Corner of Harm Reduction, a Bronx-based needle exchange program.
This is like distributing condoms. It is a direct primary intervention.
But in a recession, city budgets are lean and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed steep budget cuts across all city agencies.
I know there is a tremendous pressure from parents and from unions to put money back into things like education, but this is a small number compared to that, said councilman Oliver Koppel (D-Bronx.)
Everything may get cut to accommodate those other priorities but I hope not. This is important.
Those that use them say the needle exchange programs are more than importantthey are life saving.
In the old days syringes were so hard to come by, people were constantly passing them around, said George Bethos, a decades long intravenous drug user who has been clean for a month and a half. If it werent for needle exchange, Id be HIV positive or dead.