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Safe-Needle Flier Causes Ruckus

Safe-Needle Flier Causes Ruckus

It has been in circulation since June 2007, but a brochure produced by New York's health department that was intended to minimize the harm associated with drug injection sparked controversy in early January after its existence was reported in the New York Post.

Titled "Take Charge, Take Care: 10 Tips for Safer Use," the 16-page pamphlet was produced by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Adam Karpati, executive deputy commissioner of the mental hygiene division, flatly denied critics' charges that the publication amounts to a "how to" manual for drug injectors.

"Our primary message, as it is in all our initiatives," Karpati says, "is to help people stop using drugs and provide them with information on how to quit." He says the leaflet's first page counsels users to "get help and support to stop using drugs." Health officials say the department has spent about $32,000 to print and distribute 70,000 copies of the flier.

"You're spending taxpayer money and getting a how-to guide for first-time users," charges city council member Peter F. Vallone Jr., who chairs the city's public safety committee. He says he plans to meet with Thomas A. Farley, the city's health commissioner, to ask that the pamphlet be withdrawn.

"When I looked at the brochure, it suggested a normalization" of drug injection, says Bridget G. Brennan, the city's special narcotics prosecutor. "Anytime you intravenously inject drugs, you're taking your life into your hands, no matter how many times you wash your hands or use alcohol. It's a poison. And you don't know what the drug is cut with." Though she acknowledged the harm-reduction benefits of needle exchange, Brennan says the brochure "doesn't fall into that category."

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