San Diego City Council Grants $51,000 for Needle Exchange Program

The Safe Point San Diego mobile unit shown April 6 on 31st Street, between University Avenue and North Park Way
  • The Safe Point San Diego mobile unit shown April 6 on 31st Street, between University Avenue and North Park Way

The San Diego City Council on April 10 approved (on their consent agenda) $51,000 for Family Health Centers of San Diego, to be used for their Safe Point San Diego program. Funds will be allocated from the city's Community Projects, Programs and Services budget and shared among council districts 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8.

The only opposition came from District 5 councilmember Carl DeMaio, who voted against the measure with no further comment. District 3 councilmember Todd Gloria called the program “important” and thanked the other councilmembers for supporting it.

The Safe Point program, launched in 2001, is a harm-reduction program aimed at reducing transmission of HIV and hepatitis C to injection drug users. Operating on 31st Street between University Avenue and North Park Way and on 15th Street between F and G streets, the program allows for the exchange of clean syringes for dirty syringes (up to 30). It also provides educational information, case management, and referrals to detox and treatment services.

Safe Point operates its mobile unit two days a week: Friday mornings in North Park and Thursday evenings downtown. North Park Community Association president Nikki Berdy emailed that they “haven't heard any complaints about this program.”

Alliance Healthcare Foundation, which originally funded the program, stopped supporting it in June 2010. Family Health spokesman Ben Avey said via email they've received “grant funding from charitable organizations to ensure the continued operations.” Funding will come from AIDS United, the Comer Foundation, the Human Dignity Foundation, and the MAC AIDS Foundation. Avey said the city will support the program through 2013 with Community Development Block Grant funds.

Members of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors oppose the practice of needle exchanges because they believe it encourages intravenous drug use. “We are not aware of any movement by the County Board of Supervisors to reconsider their opposition to the program,” Avey said.

District 4 supervisor Ron Roberts's office was contacted for comment, but communications director Tim McClain emailed: “Supervisor Roberts is out of town and not available to provide a response.”

According to Family Health's funding application, the program has “prevented the improper disposal of more than 1.5 million dirty syringes in our streets, parks and beaches.” The organization cites 29,773 referrals to support services since the program began.

Their application states San Diego has the third highest rate of AIDS cases in California, with injection-drug use “the second largest leading cause of HIV transmission and leading cause of HCV in California.”

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This needle exchange program almost split the NP Community NOT because anyone did not want the needles given out but because they are doing it from an RV within sight of the NP Library instead of in a medical setting or at the very least at a public building...

Many in the nearby neighborhood feel like we got dumped on by sneaking it in this way, instead of having an exchange in every Council District, just like they should have several public bathrooms in every council district for the homeless and or anyone that needs to GO...!

BTW: it is in an RV because that way they did not have to go through the zoning process; a "TRICK" that was pushed forward by a prior CD3 Council Member to get it approved without local discussion or debate... That is sadly the way things are now DONE in SD.

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