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BOARD OF HEALTH TO HEAR FACTS ON NEEDLE EXCHANGE

State Health Department officials will be bringing information about starting a needle exchange program to a Dec. 4 meeting of the Niagara County Board of Health.

County Public Health Director David E. Wertman said Robert Furlani, regional director of the state's AIDS/HIV program, will be accompanied to the meeting by two officials from the department's Albany headquarters.

Wertman said the visitors will discuss funding, setting up the program, and logistical problems that might be encountered.

Wertman said he has long supported a needle exchange program for Niagara County. He said he talked to Furlani about such a plan two years ago, but there did not appear to be any interest on the Board of Health.

That changed when Dr. Mitchell R. Zavon, the Lewiston physician now heading that board, recently told The Buffalo News that a needle exchange program is urgently needed in the county.

Needle exchanges, in which used hypodermics are turned in and replaced with new ones, are touted as a means of preventing the spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users.

Government statistics show that almost as many of Niagara County's AIDS cases were contracted through the sharing of used needles as through homosexual intercourse, popularly regarded as the primary means of transmission of the virus.

Wertman said, "If there's any way it can be done through the (county) Health Department, we'd like to do it, if we can get the approval of the Board of Health and the Legislature."

He said he was heartened by County Legislature Chairman Sean J. O'Connor's statement to The News that he would not be opposed to such a program.

"If it looks at combating the spread of AIDS, I'd probably be for it, but you have to look at the bottom line," O'Connor said.

Between O'Connor's position and Zavon's advocacy, "That's probably all we could ask for at this point," Wertman said.

The Board of Health did not include a needle exchange program in the Health Department's 1998 budget request.