Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Drugs, Lies, and Needle Exchange

Kevin Drum's blog has a post about an editorial in the Washington Post (registration required)that started a lively discussion about the effectiveness of needle exchange and the degree to which the current administration in Washington adheres to the truth. The central focus of the WP editorial is an interview with an anonymous Washington official regarding needle exchange and the anonymous source's assertion that at least three scientific studies showed that needle exchange was ineffective. The WP reporter then called the researchers responsible for all of those studies and asked what their conclusions were. In all three cases, their conclusions were that needle exchange programs were indeed effective rather than ineffective, as the anonymous source had asserted.

In the past, the tactics used to oppose needle exchange programs at the federal level centered on the quality of science in the research about needle exchange. As that has improved, apparently the new tactic is just to invert the outcome of the research and to assert that it says what NEP opponents wish it would say.

The context for the WP editorial is actually international. Most of its discussion centers on the need for needle exchange programs in other countries (e.g., Russia) and pressure being applied to the United Nations to abandon those programs. However, there is also relevance for the issue here at home.

  • There is a current ban on spending federal funds for needle exchange programs.
  • Texas paraphernalia laws make it difficult for needle exchange programs to operate out in the open in Texas.
  • Of course, no state funds are being provided to support needle exchange programs either.
  • Injecting drug use is a significant driver for the HIV epidemic in Texas.

Senator Jon Lindsay has introduced SB 127, to allow for the legalization of needle exchange programs in Texas. The bill was also introduced in the last legislative session, received a favorable vote from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but failed to receive a second reading in the Senate (i.e., someone blocked it). Senator Lindsay's stature is such that the bill is likely to get a hearing this session and may well be voted out of committee. The problem will be to get it to the Senate floor (and then, of course, through the House).

One thing that will help, I think, is for there to be an accurate representation of the science that considers needle exchange. The possibility that the same tactics being used in Washington will be used in Austin exist. It's our job to counter that with the truth.

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