Pubdate: Thu, 02 Aug 2007
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2007 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Don Finley, Express-News Medical Writer
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


In a move that could threaten a pilot syringe exchange program for
drug addicts in Bexar County, District Attorney Susan Reed has warned
local officials that the legislation authorizing it doesn't trump the
state's narcotics laws.

"I'm telling them, and I'm telling the police chief, I don't think
they have any kind of criminal immunity," Reed said. "That's the
bottom line. It has nothing to do with whether they do it or don't do
it -- other than if you do it you might find yourself in jail."

An attorney general's opinion likely will be sought to resolve the
issue, Reed and others said, which at best could delay the start of
the program until sometime next year.

An amendment attached to Medicaid legislation by state Rep. Ruth Jones
McClendon, D-San Antonio, in the waning hours of the legislative
session authorized the pilot program here, after her bill that would
have permitted such programs statewide died in committee.

McClendon said she might seek an attorney general's opinion on the
matter, which could take as long as six months. That would make it
difficult for local authorities to gather enough evidence of the
program's success -- should it prove successful -- to show the
Legislature when it meets again in 2009. Supporters hope a successful
local program will ease passage of a statewide bill next time.

Instead, McClendon said she is considering a meeting with the Texas
District and County Attorneys Association for help in seeking a faster

"The Legislature had a purpose for this program, and the purpose for
this legislation clearly was to allow a pilot program to proceed
without prosecuting those who are managing the program and those who
need the benefits of this," she said.

McClendon pointed to an exchange on the Senate floor between Sen. Jane
Nelson, R-Lewisville, who introduced the Medicaid bill, and Sen. Bob
Deuell, R-Greenville, who told her: "I did want to establish some
legislative intent on the amendment regarding needle exchange. Is it
your intent that, notwithstanding any other statutes, Bexar County
will be allowed to legally operate a needle exchange program under the
provisions of the bill?"

"That is correct," Nelson replied.

Aurora Sanchez, the county's executive director of community and
development programs, who is overseeing the committee designing the
program, said the issue needs to be resolved before it can go forward.

"If it takes three months or six months to get the attorney general's
opinion, that's what's going to have to happen," Sanchez said.
"Because none of us wants to go to jail."

The amendment would have allowed a local program to begin Sept.

While Reed said she had some personal misgivings about syringe
exchange programs in general -- "When you acknowledge that they are
purchasing controlled substances, I'm just not sure that's a
government function for taxpayer money" -- she said she was satisfied
that the language in the original bill was sound.

McClendon vowed to fight.

"We're going to approach all avenues because this is something very
serious. This is a life-saving program that's going to be replicated
across the state, and (Texas) being the only state in the nation that
does not have the opportunity to have a program of this sort is just
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