Prevention Point Pittsburgh, the only needle-exchange program in western Pennsylvania, recently argued against an Allegheny County rule prohibiting NEPs within 1,500 feet of schools, day-care centers, and drug treatment centers. PPP’s sites in Oakland and the Hill District were established before the 2008 rule took effect, but it is a barrier to a proposed new site in Homewood, NEP representatives told a July 11 county Board of Health (BOH) meeting.
Almost no new NEPs could be established under the restriction, according to maps drawn by PPP, which asked for the rule’s elimination. The BOH agreed, and it plans to vote Sept. 5 on an amendment that would then be sent to the County Council. PPP has to receive approval from the BOH and the city of Pittsburgh before opening a site - part of a location-vetting process that was integral to support from the board, said Lee Harrison, its chair.
Bus service has been cut, and many clients are old, sick or do not have cars - meaning the current PPP sites reach only those who can afford to drive, said Renee Cox, PPP’s director. A location in Homewood would extend needed NEP access to African Americans who cannot travel to current sites, she said. In a study in New York City, 81 percent of drug users living within a 10-minute walk of an NEP used its services, compared with 59 percent of those living farther away.
“It maybe could be less than 1,500 feet, but I think there should be some type of buffer there,” said Council member Michael Finnerty (D-Scott). “They said they’re just tired of seeing needles around schools,” said Council member Vince Gastgeb (R-South Hills), recalling residents’ complaints when the rule was being considered.
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