Baltimore Sun (01.17.2014)
The Baltimore Sun reported that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow Baltimore to begin “needs-based” syringe distribution, which would increase the current one-for-one syringe exchange from 500,000 needles to 1 to 1.5 million needles per year. City health department vans implemented the Needle Exchange Program for heroin addicts since 1994, and served approximately 2,500 people annually.
Baltimore’s health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, stated that the proposed expansion was an opportunity to prevent new HIV and hepatitis C infections. Approximately 2 percent (14,000) of Baltimore residents had HIV. Incidence decreased in Baltimore since the Needle Exchange Program began; in 1992, health officials attributed approximately 53 percent of HIV infections to intravenous drug use. In 2009, only 17 percent of new HIV infections were due to intravenous drug use, and only 12 percent by 2012.
Barbot estimated that with the current level of needle exchange, addicts used clean syringes about 42 percent of the time. Cities with needs-based needle distribution—Vancouver, San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago—reported that addicts used clean syringes about 61 percent of the time and HIV incidence declined. The budget for the Needle Exchange Program would increase from approximately $35,000 to $55,000 per year if the Assembly passed the proposal.
Opponents of needs-based syringe exchange included Mike Gimbel who once headed Baltimore County’s Office of Substance Abuse and was a former heroin addict. Gimbel believed that more clean needles would result in more syringes discarded on the streets and would encourage addicts to use drugs. State Sen. Verna Jones (D-Baltimore) would not support the legislation without a cap on the number of syringes provided. Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) supported needs-based exchange and believed that Baltimore’s Needle Exchange Program helped to avert an HIV epidemic in Baltimore.