Needle exchange program opposed
On the surface, it looked like no more than an innocuous request from the Orange County Health Department for a letter of support for a syringe exchange mobile van.
It turned out to be more like sticking a broom handle into a hornet’s nest.
Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Jean Hudson and a representative from the AIDS Related Community Service likely didn’t have a clue of what they were facing Thursday night when they approached the Newburgh City Council looking for a letter of support for their needle exchange program.
The idea behind the needle exchange is to draw people into the health plan, where “we’ll be able to clean them up,” the AIDS Community Service representative said.
These are people who are struggling with addictions, the council was told.
“It’s an important part of cleaning up the city.”
Councilwoman Gay Lee, who said she has had experience with a needle exchange program when she worked as a social worker in Brooklyn, said she is adamantly opposed to the program.
“You’ll never sell me on this idea because I’ve lived it,” she said.
What followed was a heated exchange between Councilwoman Lee and the AIDs representative that continued until the confused representative retreated from the council chambers.
Members of the audience chimed in on several occasions voicing their opposition to a syringe program in Newburgh.
“Not here,” a shout rang out from the audience at one point, supporting Lee’s opposition.
Mayor Judy Kennedy said that she also wanted assurances that the program would be solely for local residents and not as an attraction for outside addicts to come to Newburgh for their needles.
“I need to be convinced,” Kennedy said. “This needs to be for local people only.”
“We have an image problem, and a syringe exchange program won’t help change our image,” Lee offered later in Thursday’s meeting.
Lee suggested that the program be offered to Middletown instead of Newburgh.
“I’ve been working with people with AIDS for 20 years, and that includes drug addicts,” she said. “I didn’t get his connection the way he got it,” defending her right to be sensitive about the subject.
“I’ll bet he won’t do it again,” she said.
By ALLAN GAUL