Wanting to reduce the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors has approved a pilot program that allows intravenous drug users to exchange used needles for clean ones, The Fresno Bee reports.

According to the article, the one-year program proposed by Edward Moreno, MD, MPH, the county's public health officer, was approved by a 3-to-2 vote December 16. Under the program, The Living Room—a support center for people living with HIV/AIDS operated by nonprofit health and human service agency WestCare—will offer substance-abuse counseling and the exchange of hypodermic needles once a week.

A 2005 study estimated that 11,377 of Fresno County's 15,169 injection drug users were most likely infected with hepatitis C. Needle exchange programs have been shown to decrease the spread of the potentially deadly liver disease and HIV.

“The main point is there is a cure for HIV and hepatitis C,” said David Blanchard, who has been handing out clean needles to injection users for 13 years. “The cure is prevention, and syringe exchange is prevention.”

Seventeen counties and three cities also offer similar programs in California, where state law allows counties and cities to operate needle exchange programs.