The City Council voted 6-1 today to reinstate a clean-needle exchange program this afternoon, giving Family Heath Centers of San Diego the ability to exchange with drug users clean hypodermic needles for used ones.

The council’s action exempts the health centers’ program from a state law that makes it illegal to distribute hypodermic needles. In addition, the city’s health officer will appear before the council annually to update the lawmakers on the program’s status.

The program was offline for one year after turmoil at City Hall caused two supporting council members to resign. The shorthanded council did not have the votes needed to renew the program last July.

In the year when the program was inactive, Family Health Centers only collected 4,000 needles from the street when 147,000 were turned in during the last year of the program’s operation, according to the organization.

On Tuesday, Council President Scott Peters and Council members Kevin Faulconer, Toni Atkins, Tony Young, Donna Frye and Ben Hueso voted to reinstate the program. Councilman Brian Maienschein voted against it and Councilman Jim Madaffer was absent from the meeting.

Faulconer, largely thought to be a swing vote, said he was undecided on the issue as recently as Friday. He said that he encountered used syringes on a cleanup in East Village and spoke to many residents in that neighborhood – one the program’s locations – who supported the program’s impact. The other location is in North Park.

“I looked at the pros and cons, and on balance, I came to the conclusion that this is a program that should exist in city of San Diego,” he said.

The program is funded by Alliance Healthcare Foundation and uses no public money.

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. Scroll down to see some comments from the public speakers who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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