ALERT: Cleveland Needle Exchanger Arrested (4/28)


Last year, DRCNet members wrote to officials and media outlets in the city of Cleveland on behalf of The Xchange Point, a privately funded needle exchange program, which had shut down under threat of prosecution by the city government. The city had issued an emergency order permitting needle exchanges to operate, but then revised it so as to specifically prohibit The Xchange Point, despite efforts by the program to work out mutually acceptable conditions ( In May '97, The Xchange Point resumed operations, thanks in part to the many letters from DRCNet members and other supporters ( We have more than four times as many readers now as we did then, and The Xchange Point needs our help again.

This morning (4/28), Ken Vail, founder and Executive Director of The Xchange Point, Cleveland's second needle exchange program, was arrested, only two days after returning from the North American Syringe Exchange Convention, where attendees were warmly welcomed by Baltimore's mayor and commissioner of public health. Ken has been charged with an "unclassified misdemeanor," a pretty minor charge, but is being held in jail with bail set at $10,000. His lawyer is working to get him released.

Ken was arrested for violating the City's health emergency order on syringe exchange that was revised earlier this year. The revised regulations had asked programs to desist from syringe exchange until they had demonstrated widespread community support through a variety of mechanisms such as community forums. Ken has been working on increasing the community support but has been vocal in criticizing the desist component of the order. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he turned himself in this morning.

The city's action threatens to increase the spread of drug- related HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases. The timing of the arrest, and the unusually high bond for an offense that would typically carry no bond, raises the suspicion that the arrest was politically motivated -- not only, perhaps, as individual retaliation against Ken Vail, but as a backlash against the headway that needle exchange has made during the last several days: Eight days ago the Secretary of Health & Human Services endorsed needle exchange in principle for the first time, and three days ago several members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for drug czar Barry McCaffrey's resignation because of his covert maneuvering to undermine other members of the Clinton administration who support needle exchange (more about that in the next Week Online).

Letters and phone calls are urgently needed to get Ken Vail released and the program reopened. Please express your outrage politely, and don't forget that we are on the winning side on this issue. (And don't forget to send us copies of your letters or notes about your phone calls.)


Mayor Michael R. White: (216) 664-2000 (switchboard open from 8:30am-4:30pm EST)
via fax: (216) 664-2815
via mail: City of Cleveland, City Hall, 601 Lakeside Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44114

Public Health Director Robert O. Staib: (216) 664-4370
via fax: (216) 664-2197
via mail: City of Cleveland, 1925 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44114

City AIDS Czar Bob Bucklew: (216) 420-8504


The Plain Dealer
1801 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
Fax: (216) 999-6209
E-mail: [email protected]

For the extra motivated:

The Free Times
1846 Coventry Road, Suite 100
Cleveland, OH 44118
Fax: (216) 321-3685
E-mail: [email protected]

Gay People's Chronicle
P.O. Box 5426
Cleveland, OH 44101
Fax: (216) 631-1082
E-mail: [email protected]

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