Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and 20 other members of California's Congressional delegation today sent Governor Gray Davis a letter urging him to support AB 518, the state legislation introduced by Assembly Member Kerry Mazzoni, that would allow local governments in California to establish legal needle exchange programs. The legislation is expected to reach the Governor's desk in late August.
"Each year 8,000 Californians are infected with HIV and injection drug use is the second leading cause of those infections," Pelosi said. "Needle exchange programs save lives. It is imperative that cities be able to use this proven public heath tool."
In 1998, injection drug use accounted for 25% of all new AIDS cases in California. Nationally and in California, it is the primary source of heterosexual, female and mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Well over half of all pediatric AIDS cases are linked to injection drug use.
The letter to Governor Davis notes that numerous scientific studies --- including six federally funded reports --- provide conclusive scientific evidence that needle exchange programs reduce HIV transmission and do not encourage drug use.
AB 518 has the support of California's leading mainstream health organizations, including the California Medical Association and the California Conference of Local Health Officers. The bill neither mandates nor provides funding for needle exchange programs, but simply ensures that local governments that choose to establish such programs have the legal authority to do so. A small number of communities in California have established needle exchange programs using local emergency declarations, yet many localities that would like to do so will not implement these lifesaving programs because of the continuing legal ambiguities.
Signers of the letter were: Rep. Xavier Becerra, Rep. Julian Dixon, Rep. Anna Eshoo, Rep. Sam Farr, Rep. Bob Filner, Rep. Tom Lantos, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Matthew Martinez, Rep. Robert Matsui, Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, Rep. George Miller, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Rep. Brad Sherman, Rep. Pete Stark, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, Rep. Mike Thompson, Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Henry Waxman, Rep. Lynn Woolsey.
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