Pubdate: Sun, 17 Sep 2000
Source: Nevada Appeal (NV)
Copyright: 2000 Nevada Appeal
Author: Joseph Perkins
Note: Joseph Perkins is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.


San Diego moved a step closer this week to joining the ranks of America's
Sodoms and Gomorrahs -- cities that blithely hand out hypodermic needles to
junkies, damning them to their deadly addictions.

What particularly offends is that the moral relativists on San Diego's City
Council insist they are somehow making a bow to compassion. By providing the
city's 20,000 or so intravenous drug users with clean needles, they reason,
they reduce the prospect that these hard-core druggies will contract HIV.

Alas, this is what passes for enlightened public policy-making not only in
America's sixth-largest city, but in cities throughout the once-fair land.
No longer do city leaders attempt to discourage pathologies such as drug
abuse. They aspire to nothing more ambitious than "harm reduction."

So they offer needles and syringes to any junkie who darkens their doors.
And while they claim not to condone illegal drug use, they are only too
willing to enable addicts to pump poison into their bodies.

Indeed, they even pass out "safe crack kits" advising junkies on how best to
inject crack. And there are pamphlets instructing junkies in the most
prudent way to shoot up: "Take care of your veins. Rotate injection sites."

Needle exchange advocates claim that assorted scientific studies "prove" the
efficacy of distributing needles to junkies.

The most often mentioned "proof" is a 1995 National Academy of Sciences
report that concluded: "Well-implemented needle exchange programs can be
effective in preventing the spread of HIV and do not increase the use of
illegal drugs."

However, in a well-documented 1998 article, published in Policy Review, the
journal of the Heritage Foundation, Joe Loconte deconstructed the academy

First of all, the academy conducted no actual research of its own. It simply
reviewed a number of studies, most of which the academy admitted were highly

In fact, two of three physicians who served on the academy panel that issued
the needle exchange report said the studies they looked at did not, in fact,
establish a scientific link between lower HIV rates and needle exchange.

"NEPs may, in theory, be effective," said Dr. Herbert Kleber, of the
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, "but the data
doesn't prove that they are."

But there is information out there that is beyond scientific dispute: An
intravenous drug user is at far greater risk of dying from his or her drug
habit than from HIV-related causes.

Indeed, a University of Pennsylvania study, which Loconte detailed in his
Policy Review article, followed 415 intravenous drug users in Philadelphia
over four years.

Twenty died during the study, only five from causes associated with HIV. The
other 23 died from other causes, including overdoses, homicide, heart
disease, kidney failure, liver disease and suicide.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, medical professors George
Woody and David Metzger concluded that, compared with the risk of HIV
infection, the threat of death to drug addicts from other causes is "more

If needle exchange advocates refuse to believe this, they need only consider
the deaths of John Watters and Brian Weil. These two prominent founders of
needle exchange programs died not from HIV-related causes, but from heroin

Oh well. At least they used clean needles.

And that is precisely the unspoken sentiment of needle exchange advocates,
for all their professions to the contrary; for all their pretenses of

It matters not to them if junkies kill themselves on drugs (otherwise, why
aid and abet their deadly habit?). As long as they don't spread HIV.

This is what putative progressives mean by "harm reduction." But what it
really amounts to is social nihilism. For it is hardly rational, not to
mention moral, to deliver people from one threat to health -- HIV -- only to
condemn them to another -- drug abuse.

Enlightened city leaders, those who listen to the better angels of their
nature, would not put themselves in the position of choosing the lesser of
evils when it comes to the health of those whom they represent.

Rather than provide needles on demand to junkies, hoping they shoot up
responsibly, they would devote city resources to treatment programs that
enable drug addicts to overcome their deadly habit.
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