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Needle exchange program opposed

January 16th, 2013

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.


  1. Barbara Bennet
    January 17th, 2013 at 11:36 | #1

    I’m not sure what meeting Mr. Gaul attended. I was at the work group session as well on January 10th where Dr. Hudson and Mr. Kraus were allowed a brief opportunity to present a Harm Reduction Syringe Exchange proposal to the Mayor and City Council members of Newburgh.

    There were in excess of 20 people at the meeting who were in support of this proposal. However, there were two demonstrators who were choreographed by a City Council Member and the lack of information they showed about syringe use and blood borne infections was astounding.
    Dr. Hudson and Mr. Kraus were invited to present at this closed meeting. The supporters of this program understood that and remained professional throughout the rants of a City Council Member and her two supporters. Since when does a public official get to use her/his influence to promote a public demonstration at a work group session?
    Dr. Hudson and Mr. Kraus were not confused by the events of the evening. Rather, they were flabbergasted by flagrant grandstanding.

  2. Jeffrey Kraus
    January 17th, 2013 at 11:42 | #2

    I was very disappointed to read Mr. Gaul’s inaccurate representation of what occurred at the Newburgh City Council work session on Thursday, Jan. 10. The Health Commissioner and I were invited to answer questions and provide a brief overview of an important public health intervention. We did have some time to present the benefits and overwhelming support for the effectiveness of syringe exchange. There were 20 or more people in the audience in full support of the initiative yet Mr. Gaul prefers to focus on one comment by an opponent, who by the way, was brought to the meeting by Councilwoman Lee, in order to make an effort to close down rational discussion of a vital public health program that has saved thousands of lives for decades. Mr. Gaul’s article was incomplete, erroneous, misleading and fully misrepresentational of what happened that evening. I would hope that a more balanced presentation would be in order and that Mr. Gaul inform himself of the data regarding this program before he titles his article “Needle exchange program opposed.” How absurd do you get when one Councilwoman determines the title of the article. There is substantial support for our program and the more folks learn, they more they understand.

  3. Beth A. Hoeffner
    January 17th, 2013 at 14:26 | #3

    I too was at that meeting and as a private citizen was truly embarassed at the lack of manners a local official and two citizens carrying posterboard and shouting exhibited. Listening was not a skill shown by Councilwoman Lee but I hope reading and learning will be. The data is there to support this program. It has saved many lives in other areas, gotten users to rehabilitation and Newburgh deserves it. Enough bad press and attention given to grandstanding, it’s time to think of the community and how best to serve, not scream.

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