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Jackson Heights needle exchange site sought

AIDS Center of Queens County Executive Director Philip Glotzer told members of the Jackson Heights-based Community Board 3 last Thursday that the organization would solicit residents' suggestions for possible sites for the program, which he indicated was needed because of higher-than-average rates of HIV infection from dirty drug needles in the three communities. Glotzer pledged only to proceed with the board's full support for the program, which is designed to help intravenous drug users avoid contracting AIDS or HIV and other blood-borne illnesses by making unused syringes available to them. Ultimately, the center's goal is to connect drug users with narcotics counseling services, he said."We're looking for input from you to tell us where we should go because you know your community better than we do," Glotzer said. "Studies indicated that people will only travel 10 blocks (to use the exchange) so if we're not in that area where it's needed no one will come."The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that there are more than 1,000 intravenous drug users infected with AIDS or HIV in Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst. The department maintains that needle exchange sites pay for themselves after saving just two people a year from being infected with HIV. The average lifetime cost of caring for an AIDS patient is $150,000, the department said.ACQC already operates a stationary needle exchange site on Hunter Street in Long Island City and a mobile exchange van in the Rockaways. The center, which services about 3,500 clients throughout the borough, also is set to launch sites in two Jamaica churches within 60 days.Community Board 3 Chairman Richard Cecere said the board's health committee would soon visit the AIDS center's Long Island City facility to observe its progress."The borough president is very supportive," Cecere said. "I want our health committee to get involved. We will visit the site in Long Island City."Glotzer acknowledged that needle exchange programs have at times been controversial but hesought to alleviate neighbors' potential concerns. The AIDS center encountered some community opposition when it first proposed its sites in Jamaica and Long Island City. But after extensive debate, both sites were overwhelmingly approved by their respective community boards. The Long Island City site, which was given the green light in May 2004, was the first needle exchange to be approved for Queens and the first new needle exchange in the city in nine years."The goal is not just to give someone a needle and say 'Go away,'" Glotzer said. "Our goal is to treat people in a civil way and to treat them respectfully and to get them connected with services." Glotzer said drug users have never congregated around the sites and there was no evidence of any increase in crime around them. In addition to needle exchange programs, the AIDS center also offers housing services, mental health counseling, educational outreach and recreational activities.Glotzer said the organization would come up with a list of potential sites by April. He said he hoped the board would then be able to vote on a site sometime before its summer break. The site would have to be approved by the state Department of Health, which licenses needle exchange centers.At last Thursday's meeting, City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) said he supported the program."There's always a bit of opposition a when this first comes up," he said, "but when we look at the fact that this program does save lives, it's worth it."Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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