Duluth leaders dislike site of needle-swap program

  • Associated Press
  • August 26, 2013 - 6:19 PM

DULUTH, Minn. — Duluth's mayor, police chief and other leaders are concerned about plans to open a needle-exchange program for drug users in a part of downtown they have worked to revitalize.

The city's nonprofit Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment intends to open the needle-swap program in early September, the Duluth News Tribune reported Monday ( ). The goal is to fight the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV, AIDS and hepatitis C, by providing new needles and syringes for free in exchange for used ones.

But the intended site near Lake Place Park is in the area locals call Old Downtown, which the city has worked in recent years to clean up and make a destination. It's also near Last Place on Earth, the head shop the city has long sought to shut down, saying it violates rules regulating the sale of synthetic drugs.

A judge temporarily closed that shop last month, and City Councilwoman Linda Krug said the surrounding area has already improved.

"We're trying to revitalize downtown," Krug said. "This does not seem in keeping with what we're trying to do."

Clinic officials said they needed a central location on a bus line to in order to reach low-income people who need their services the most.

Gary Olson, CEO of the center, said he's confident there won't be issues.

"People come to us to do the right thing," Olson said. "They want help, and they're being responsible."

The program is operated by the Rural AIDS Action Network, which gets funding from the Minnesota Department of Health. Charles Hempeck, executive director of the network, said needle-drug users aren't likely to linger in the area.

"They'll get clean syringes and leave," he said.

Mayor Don Ness said city officials were not consulted on the location. He and Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said there should have been more collaboration with the city.

"At a minimum, we should be having a conversation about the pros and cons and different considerations that go into where it should be," Ness said.

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