The City Council debate over restarting the clean-needle exchange program is underway at City Hall today. Mayor Jerry Sanders is proposing that the program, which allows hypodermic needle users to change out used needles for clean ones, be reinstated after falling by the wayside during the city’s political turmoil a year ago.

The program is touted as a way to stop the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, while opponents say the service condones intravenous drug use.

A shorthanded council couldn’t muster the five votes to keep the program alive last year after two of its supporters – former Councilmen Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza – resigned from office.

Council President Scott Peters and Councilmembers Tony Young, Toni Atkins and Donna Frye have supported the program in the past. Councilmen Brian Maienschein and Jim Madaffer have opposed the program and new Councilmen Ben Hueso and Kevin Faulconer have both indicated that they were undecided on the issue entering today’s council meeting.

The program’s foes sounded off on the program first.

Rev. Luauna L. Stines of Ramona said the private money that would fund the clean-needle exchange program would be better spent on a faith-based program to help recovering drug users. She said the mayor’s proposal continues to fuel their addictions with new needles.

“Do you want San Diego pulling in addicts from all over the area?” asked Stines, who noted that she was a former cocaine user. She continued: “They don’t need another needle, they need an answer.”

Allowing the program is like “allowing the city to become a partner in the illegal drug trade,” said James Hartline, an ex-addict who now publishes a Christian conservative e-mail newsletter.

Check back for the council members’ comments and votes today.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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