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No needle exchange program for Freeport

A group of Freeport residents are opposed to

A group of Freeport residents are opposed to a mobile needle exchange program in the center of the village's business area. (May 26, 2012) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

A nonprofit that serves HIV-positive Long Islanders has identified Freeport as a community in "high" need of a needle exchange program, but the group has decided to stay out of the village because of community opposition.

The Lindenhurst-based Long Island Minority AIDS Coalition had been considering placing a van at the corner of North Main Street and Brooklyn Avenue to allow drug users to swap used intravenous needles for clean ones.

The service would have helped stop the spread of HIV by disposing of used needles, and also would have provided referrals to drug treatment programs and other services, said Tina Wolf, the coalition's syringe exchange director.

But a group of residents found out about the coalition's plan earlier this month. They complained to the group and to village officials that the van would attract criminals to the area. Village officials also said they weren't adequately consulted about the coalition's plan to come to Freeport.

"You have to expect that drug dealers are going to come because they've got their customers and they've got their needles," said Pat Rowen, one of the residents who opposed the van.

Wolf said the coalition, which runs a similar van program in Hempstead Village, targeted Freeport because it is an area "where we can have the most impact."

The state health department's Community Need Index, which uses factors such as AIDS cases, drug use statistics and teen pregnancy rates to determine a community's need for HIV and AIDS services, listed Freeport's ZIP code as one of the five neediest in Nassau County, records show.

But the coalition has decided to stay out of Freeport because of the community's opposition to the program, said Rabia Aziz, the group's executive director.

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"We will not go into any community that is not supportive of the service, nor should we," Aziz said.

Before the coalition's decision, village officials had questioned whether the coalition could set up the van without a permit.

The van would have been located in a high-traffic area near the Freeport Long Island Rail Road station and could have needed an assembly permit, village attorney Howard Colton said.

Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick said the coalition never came to him about such a permit.

"I took it as a blatant sign of disrespect that they would set up shop in a municipality without contacting the chief executive first," Hardwick said.

Wolf said the coalition does not always need local approval to set up a van program.

Some residents, including Anthony Miller, said they could see the benefit of the needle exchange program, but added that the coalition should have talked to village officials and residents first.

"I don't have a problem with them bringing something like that into the community, but they should bring it here before the board first," Miller said after a recent board of trustees meeting.

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