Schmoke calls for clean-needle exchange program

September 24, 1992|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

Seeking to attack a major source of transmission for the AID virus, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said last night that the city will again ask the General Assembly for an exemption in drug laws to allow a clean- needle exchange program for addicts.

Speaking at the 5th annual Baltimore City-Baltimore County AIDS conference, Mr. Schmoke said drug-paraphernalia laws would have to be changed before the city could have a needle exchange -- which he has long advocated.

A similar proposal died in the 1992 legislative session.

The city would join New York and, most recently, the District of Columbia, in introducing experimental needle-exchange programs in trying to slow the AIDS onslaught that officials say has infected nearly 250,000 people nationwide.

Dr. Randy Berger, director of the Baltimore County Health Department's AIDS program, presented figures at the conference showing a 143 percent increase in reported cases in Maryland since 1989 -- ahead of the national average of 126 percent -- and a 168 percent increase in the metro area.

Statewide, she said that 4,750 cases had been reported as of June 30. Dr. Berger said Baltimore County has had 302 AIDS cases -- most of them concentrated around the Baltimore Beltway.

Mr. Schmoke, the first speaker in last night's program at the Mercy Medical Center, said 2,273 AIDS cases had been reported in the city as of July 31 -- and 1,408 of those people are now dead. The number counts began a decade ago.

Health officials noted that homosexuals and intravenous drug-users remain the most at risk from AIDS and that the disease has a disproportionately large impact on the black population.

Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore, co-sponsor of the forum along with county Democratic Del. Leslie E. Hutchinson, put the city AIDS statistics in a more narrow and frightening perspective:

"At my church [New Psalmist Baptist Church], we buried seven people in one week," he said.

Paul Kelly, a panelist and activist who spoke about living with AIDS, somberly suggested multiplying each known case by five sexual partners and five "injection partners" to get a sense of the numbers yet to come.

Officials ranging from County Executive Roger B. Hayden to city AIDS Coordinator Brenda Pridgen said that with limited government resources the disease must be addressed at all levels of society -- whether it is the business community or volunteers from a bowling league.

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