Pubdate: Wed, 29 Aug 2007
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2007 San Antonio Express-News
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Texas lawmakers dropped the ball when they failed to pass bills that 
would have created a safe, controlled statewide needle exchange program.

The bills would have crafted the program and amended current law to 
allow medical professionals to avoid prosecution under the Texas 
Controlled Substances Act.

Texas is believed to be the only state without some form of 
authorized syringe exchange program.

Through the efforts of Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, 
lawmakers approved a pilot needle exchange program for Bexar County 
after efforts for a statewide program failed. Unfortunately, language 
exempting the program from drug paraphernalia laws was not included.

The Bexar County Commissioners Court voted this month to fund the 
$60,000 pilot program to provide information, referrals and kits of 
antibiotic ointment, sterile syringes, clean swabs and cotton balls.

Officials estimate that 5,000 people a year could be served through 
the program by providing clean needles to addicts, many of whom 
contract HIV and other diseases using dirty needles.

Police officers are also at risk of contracting diseases when they 
conduct searches.

Commissioners were on the right track in pursuing the program, 
despite questions about its legality. Bexar County District Attorney 
Susan Reed says current law prohibits such a program.

According to the act, a person commits an offense by delivering drug 
paraphernalia to someone who intends to use it to "introduce into the 
human body a controlled substance."

"I have to deal with the reality of, 'is it permissible?'" she said. 
"It may be a good program, but is it legal?"

Of the 200 new HIV patients in Bexar County last year, about 10 
percent injected drugs, according to health officials. Coupled with 
the many hepatitis C cases also seen in recent years, the costs -- 
emotional, physical and fiscal -- are high. An exchange program makes 
fiscal sense for the state because taxpayers often carry the health 
care burden for indigent residents.

Studies show that needle exchange programs do not increase drug use, 
but do result in lower instances of disease contraction.

Texas should provide a safer alternative to those who struggle with 
drug addiction. Drug abuse prevention is the first line of defense, 
but that shouldn't stop officials from reducing the ravages of 
infectious disease.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman