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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
MINNESOTA: Concern Arises Over Needle-Swap Clinic in Downtown Duluth

<p>Tom Olsen</p>

August 27, 2013

Duluth News Tribune (Minn.) (08.26.2013)

Community leaders in Duluth, Minn., expressed concern over a proposed needle exchange program site because of its proximity to a local park, which would counter recent revitalization efforts. Proponents of the program, scheduled to open after Labor Day, believed that being housed in a recovery center would bring addicts closer to treatment. “People come to us to do the right thing,” said Gary Olson, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment. “They want help and they’re being responsible. It’s the ones that don’t come to us that we’re worried about.”

Clinic officials said the program, designed to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases, needed to be on a direct bus route. Charles Hempeck, executive director of the Rural Aids Action Network, which will operate the program, said the needle exchange was well organized and would not bring people who lingered and caused problems. The Minnesota Department of Health provided funding for the program, which also will provide HIV counseling.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness argued that the city was never contacted for feedback and was not part of the location decision. “I would express disappointment that, as far as I’m aware, there wasn’t any conversation with downtown officials,” Ness said. Agreeing with the mayor, Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said, “While I understand the goals of the program, there needs to be some more community collaboration.”

City Councilor Linda Krug said the clinic’s opening would threaten the efforts to restore Old Downtown. She said the area had seen progress since the recent forced closure of Last Place on Earth, a store that sold synthetic drugs. However, the controversy might be brief, according to Olson, because the treatment facility was looking to move within the next year and more than likely would take the needle-exchange program with it.