Disappointed mayor still seeks needle-exchange program BALTIMORE CITY

March 26, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Spurred by a state House panel's rejection of legislation to create a needle-exchange pilot program in Baltimore, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has asked city officials to explore the possibility of starting a program that can be operated within existing state laws.

Speaking at his weekly press conference yesterday, Mr. Schmoke said he was "really disappointed" that the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted 13-11 against the proposal. Mr. Schmoke favors needle exchange as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users.

The proposed program required approval by the General Assembly because an exemption is needed from the state's drug paraphernalia law, which prohibits unauthorized ownership of hypodermic syringes.

Most committee members said they were uncomfortable with the idea of allowing intravenous drug users to turn in dirty hypodermic syringes in exchange for clean ones.

Yesterday, Mr. Schmoke said he would ask the city solicitor, and the police and health commissioners to determine whether a program could be started that would adhere to existing state law. A similar program was started in New Haven, Conn., without a change in that state's laws, he said.

"Be very clear now -- I am not today declaring that we are going to implement a program regardless of the law. What I am going to pursue is whether we can implement a program under current law," Mr. Schmoke said.

"I'm not trying to be Patrick Henry," the mayor added. "I'm not making some declaration that we're off to war on the issue. I'm just saying that the concerns that led us to support this bill are very legitimate ones and I feel very strongly that we can protect the health of our citizens by having this program. I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't now explore another way of doing this."

Intravenous drug use is one of the principal ways in which the AIDS virus is spread.

Under the proposed city pilot program, up to 700 IV drug users would have been allowed to turn in dirty needles and receive clean ones from city health officials. They also would have received anti-drug and AIDS counseling.

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