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Pittsburgh needle
exchange may be shut down

Pittsburgh needle
exchange may be shut down

County councilman introduces bill to examine the legality of needle-exchange program.

An Allegheny County, Pa., councilman has taken aim at a needle-exchange program operating in the Pittsburgh area, saying that it may be operating illegally and should be shut down, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Prevention Point Pittsburgh has operated the needle exchange for four years with the support of the county health department, but councilman Vince Gastgeb says it is illegal for the organization to distribute needles. He has introduced a bill to examine the needle-exchange program to see if it is violating Pennsylvania laws against distributing what he says is drug paraphernalia. The council will likely consider his bill this summer and could shut down the needle exchange if it is found to be in violation of state law.

The Allegheny County health department's board unanimously approved the needle-exchange program in 2001, saying that high rates of HIV and hepatitis C among county injection-drug users constituted a health crisis. Studies have shown that about 20% of HIV infections and almost all hepatitis C infections among injection drug users are transmitted through shared needles, health officials say. Since the Pittsburgh-area needle exchange began operating, there has been a 64% drop in needle sharing among injection drug users, according to health department statistics.

Prevention Point Pittsburgh's needle exchange is operated entirely through private funds. Most of its annual $215,000 budget actually goes to counseling, drug treatment, and other support programs, says needle-exchange director Renee Cox. (The Advocate)

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