Baltimore's needle exchange program for drug addicts has already served four times the number of people projected, but it's too early to tell if the program will inhibit the spread of AIDS, the city's top health official said yesterday.
The legislature approved a three-year pilot needle exchange program for Baltimore last year in an attempt to halt the spread of AIDS through the use of shared, dirty syringes. About 26,000 city residents are infected with the AIDS virus.
Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city's health commissioner, testified before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee that addicts have embraced the 6-month-old program, which gives them a clean needle for each dirty one they turn in.
Since it began at two sites in East and West Baltimore last August, the program has served 2,000 drug users -- four times as many as officials projected originally.
Dr. Beilenson said he now expects more than 3,500 will have participated in the first 12 months.
"We're at the point where we could expand to other sites," said Dr. Beilenson, noting that the city has more than 35,000 intravenous drug users.
The program, which operates out of a Winnebago recreational vehicle, refers many of its participants to drug treatment and other medical care, Dr. Beilenson said.
He said it is too early to determine if the program is retarding the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome because the virus takes about six months to incubate.
Public finance program for elections OK'd
A House committee voted unanimously last night to reauthorize Maryland's program of publicly financed elections for the 1998 gubernatorial contest.
The vote came after the Commerce and Government Matters Committee agreed to increase from $1 million to about $1.5 million the amount of money that would be made available during the general election for gubernatorial candidates who voluntarily participate in the program.
The program would be financed with $1.6 million left over from last year's first attempt at publicly financed elections in Maryland, plus whatever money taxpayers voluntarily donate over the next four years.
At the urging of Delegate D.Bruce Poole, a Washington County Democrat, the committee stripped from the bill a provision that would have allowed state and local party central committees to raise and spend money in a coordinated campaign with candidates who accept public financing.
Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, which is pushing for passage of the bill, said, "If a public funding bill passes, campaigns will be put back into the hands of people by controlling the costs of campaigns and limiting the influence of special interest money."
The bill now goes to the full House. A companion bill is pending in a Senate committee.
Incentive for managers to save is approved
The House yesterday approved an incentive for state managers to save money.
House Bill 13, which passed unanimously, would allow two state agencies in an experimental program to keep 50 percent of their annual savings for use the next year. Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat and the bill's sponsor, has said managers are now encouraged to spend their entire budget each year or lose money the next year. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has supported the measure, which now goes to the Senate.