Mayor could cut funding for boro needle exchange

By Alex Davidson

At the same time HIV/AIDS prevention organizations are gearing up to propose a syringe exchange program in Queens, the mayor and city council members have begun dueling over the breadth and depth of funds to be given for fighting the deadly illnesses citywide.

Phil Glotzer, executive director of AIDS Center Queens County in Rego Park, said his organization will present details of a plan March 4 to Community Board 2 in Woodside on how to create a syringe exchange initiative to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users. Glotzer said despite resistance, he and others hope to put the exchange in place as a protective measure to also save the city money in the long run by avoiding future medical treatments.

“Prevention is less costly,” Glotzer said.

Queens and Staten Island are the only two boroughs that have yet to implement syringe exchange programs.

But at the same time he and others, including city Department of Mental Health and Hygiene Commissioner Thomas Frieden, are going ahead with the syringe exchange measure, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed slashing $5 million in city funds that would target high-risk areas of HIV/AIDS transmission such as Woodside.

Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) stood with Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) at a City Hall news conference last Thursday to denounce the proposed cuts that they say would unfairly disadvantage communities of color.

“There is an incredible disconnect in the Bloomberg administration,” Quinn said. “While one side is saying in San Francisco that our city compares with sub-Saharan Africa in terms of rates of infection, the other side is slamming down the budget ax on the Council’s communities of color HIV/AIDS initiative.”

Quinn, speaking at the news conference, referred to a city study presented in San Francisco that showed people of color in the city account for 56.6 percent of the population but represent almost 80 percent of people living with AIDS. The city said at the California event that communities of color were being disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

A spokesman for Bloomberg, Jordan Barowitz, said the administration is willing to work with the City Council to restore funds that they deem a priority.

“Last year the city spent $31 million on counseling, training, testing and preventing HIV/AIDS,” he said.

Barowitz said the proposed $5 million cut is discussed every year because the programs are not automatically authorized by the mayor.

Glotzer said AIDS Center Queens County is targeting Woodside, then Jamaica and Far Rockaway — all areas in the borough with high populations of blacks and Latinos that also have high rates of HIV/AIDS — for future syringe exchange programs. He said a combination of the city’s funds with the syringe initiative would help to bring down the overall HIV/AIDS rate in Queens.

Intravenous drug use is the leading cause of AIDS in Queens, affecting primarily blacks and Latinos, according to statistics from AIDS Center of Queens County and the national Harm Reduction Coalition headquartered in Manhattan. About 62 percent of intravenous drug users in Jamaica have AIDS, compared with 43 percent throughout the rest of the city.

Syringe exchange programs, supporters contend, serve not only to provide drug users with clean needles but also are a means to reach out to isolated communities where health and social services are scarce. The programs try to involve drug users in treatment programs in addition to providing them with non-infected needles to stop the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Glotzer has said the proposal for Queens calls for the establishment of a mobile van that would target the communities of Jamaica, Long Island City and Far Rockaway to reach points where HIV/AIDS infection rates are particularly high among intravenous drug users. He said the van would not park near schools or other potentially controversial sites but would instead go to the heart of where drug users choose to act.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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