By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com February 08 2003 12:00 AM ET
The Rhode Island general assembly is set to consider a bill that aims to ban the operation of state-run needle-exchange programs within 300 yards of parks, schools, and churches, The Providence Journal reports. The program, operated by the state health department, operates for two hours a week near a city park in Woonsocket. The two legislators who introduced the bill said the needle-exchange program near the park could lead to crime. "We just don't want it in a place where they are in such close proximity to children and the elderly," said a bill cosponsor, representative Todd Brien. "This could lead to [drug users] attracted to the needle exchange to commit a crime, turning to prostitution, or breaking and entering to support a habit." The needle exchange is also opposed by Woonsocket mayor Susan Menard, who has pledged to do "whatever's necessary to get them out."
But AIDS experts in the state say the program is effective in reducing the spread of HIV and other blood-borne pathogens among injection-drug users. "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," said Josiah Rich, an infectious disease specialist with Providence's Miriam Hospital and Brown University. "This is a tremendously successful intervention, and [it] has not led to any rise of drug use."