Pubdate: Thu, 21 Feb 2008
Source: Waco Tribune-Herald (TX)
Copyright: 2008 Waco-Tribune Herald


Bill Day, a 73-year-old lay chaplain, may be thrown  into jail for his
efforts to reduce suffering on the  streets of San Antonio.

Only in Texas, according to a news story by Los Angeles  Times staff
writer Miguel Bustillo, could Day be  prosecuted for breaking the law.

Texas needs to join the 21st century and support Day in  his efforts
to reduce suffering and save tax dollars.

Day's offense stems from a needle-exchange program  launched by his
nonprofit group, the Bexar Area Harm  Reduction Coalition.

Day was arrested on drug paraphernalia charges when a  San Antonio
police officer spotted him exchanging  syringes with prostitutes and
junkies on a seedy Alamo  City street.

 From Day's point of view, a law that prevents him from  giving clean
needles to addicts is immoral.

 From the point of view of every other state in the  United States,
needle-exchange programs save tax  dollars and reduce the transmission
of diseases such as  HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

So far, Texas lawmakers maintain the point of view that
needle-exchange programs encourage illegal drug use and  undermine the
government's war on drugs.

That position has been rejected by the rest of the  nation and by
numerous studies.

The Center for Disease Control and the National  Institute of Health
support needle-exchange programs.

The National Institute of Health estimates that between  15 percent
and 20 percent of injection drug users have  HIV.

The institute estimates that at least 70 percent of  injection drug
users have hepatitis C. It asserts that  needle-exchange programs can
reduce high-risk injection  behavior by up to 74 percent.

Despite the singularly retrograde attitude exhibited by  Texas
lawmakers, study after study has shown the  effectiveness of
needle-exchange programs.

In 1998, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said,  "There is
conclusive scientific evidence that  syringe-exchange programs, as
part of a comprehensive  HIV prevention strategy, are an effective
public health  intervention that reduces transmission of HIV and does
not encourage the illegal use of drugs."

But lawmakers signalled that one day Texas could join  the rest of the
nation during the last legislative  session a bill passed permitting a
pilot  needle-exchange program in San Antonio.

Unfortunately, that pilot program has not been  launched.

In the meantime, Bexar County District Attorney Susan  Reed has said
she will prosecute anyone who distributes  clean needles to addicts.

Her office even bumped up the charges against Chaplain  Day from a
Class C misdemeanor to a Class A  misdemeanor. That could result in a
year in jail for  Day and his fellow church members arrested for
exchanging needles with San Antonio addicts.

The Texas Legislature should catch up with the rest of  the nation and
permit needle-exchange programs.
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