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New needle exchange worries anti-drug activists in downtown Duluth

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A needle-swap shop is planning to open in downtown Duluth in September, raising concerns among some downtown advocates, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

The operation plans to offer clean needles and syringes in exchange for dirty ones – a program designed to curb the spread of blood-borne diseases including HIV/AIDs and hepatitis C, the newspaper reports.

The site of the center is about a block from The Last Place on Earth, a head shop that has been closed for now amid a fight over whether its owner can sell synthetic drugs. Critics of that store cheered the closing, and they say downtown has improved since then, but now they fear the needle exchange will draw drug users to downtown.

Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he was concerned about the exchange's proximity to a park. “While I understand the goals of the program, there needs to be some more community collaboration,” he told the newspaper.

The program, which will offer free HIV/AIDS testing, will be run by the Rural Aids Action Network, which gets some funding from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Program leaders say it is well-managed and won't bring new drug users to downtown, the News Tribune reports.

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