Despite new evidence that suggests syringe-exchange programs significantly reduce the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users, Queens remains one of only two boroughs where such programs do not exist.
Staten Island is the only other borough that does not house a syringe-exchange program.
In Queens theres a lot of resistance to it. Nobody wants it in their own neighborhood, said Philip Glotzer, executive director of the AIDS Center of Queens County. Its very hard to get a community to support it. Politicians say it makes sense to have needle-exchange programs, but youre not going to do it in my district, not in my backyard.
Glotzer said he was not surprised at the new evidence, which shows infection rates have dropped among IV drug users in New York City in the areas where syringe-exchange programs operate.
The programs, started in 1992, have sprouted up in three of the citys boroughs despite a ban on federal funding. There are nine syringe-exchange programs spanning 27 sites in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, according to the state Department of Health.
Dr. Don DesJarlais, director of research at the Edmond DeRothschild Foundation Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center, announced the findings last week at the second National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta.
He said that for most of the 1980s about half of 200,000 injecting drug users in New York City were infected with HIV. When some of these users died or stopped using, they were replaced by an equal number of people who were newly infected.
Things began to change in the early 1990s, said DesJarlais. After syringe-exchange programs were legalized and funded, the rate of new infections went from 4 percent to 1 percent per year. According to the study, over the last decade the percentage of intravenous drug users infected with HIV in New York City has gone from 50 percent to 20 percent.
The results are based on a series of six studies of 11,000 drug-using participants citywide.
Were quite concerned about Queens and Staten Island, DesJarlais said, estimating there are tens of thousands of IV drug users in Queens.
Glotzer said if we have an intervention that works, it seems a criminal act not to implement it. Whats important is engaging people where they are at.
A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 seeks to help IV drug users gain access to clean syringes. Under the Expanded Syringe Access Program, drug stores and pharmacies can now sell the devices without prescription. In Queens, 175 locations now sell syringes over the counter. Customers can buy up to 10 per day.
In a program related to the law, Glotzer can now offer clean syringes as part of a comprehensive education program.
To get a license, you need to have community support, he said. Without such backing, Glotzer said his organization will go through the back door to provide clean needles and syringes, free of charge, at his groups offices in Rego Park, Jamaica and Far Rockaway.
Well be furnishing syringes in an environment where there will be comprehensive services, he said. We provide education, case management, lawyers, housing, primary medical care and a mental health component.
But Glotzer said the implementation of needle exchange programs in Queens only scratches the surface of what needs to be done. He said the report did not look at political, economic and social factors that must be taken into account.
He said there has been a dramatic shift in the demographics of people infected with HIV in Queens, citing women with children as a group that is particularly hard hit by the virus.
Now families are affected, not just individuals, he said. Were going to wake up one day and say we have to do something about this. The epidemic is getting out of control.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2001 Community News Group
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