Update on Syringe Exchange Outreach Programs in Texas
When the 81st Texas Legislature convenes in January, legislators from both sides of the aisle will support bills to reduce the spread of hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS by allowing local health authorities to implement syringe exchange outreach programs.
Bills have been filed by Senator Bob Deuell of Rockwall (Senate Bill 188), Representative Ruth McClendon of San Antonio (House Bill 142), and Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr. of Corpus Christi (House Bill 272).
Needle exchange isn’t only about saving lives. The programs can save millions of dollars. Preventing HIV and hepatitis C costs taxpayers less than treating sufferers of these debilitating diseases. Although the state’s first pilot syringe exchange program in Bexar County was authorized by the Legislature during the last session, implementation has been blocked since January. Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed, based on her misguided interpretation of the law, threatens prosecution of health care providers who participate.
The thwarted pilot program was to serve as a model for the development of needle exchange programs in major cities around the state, a move strongly supported by the ACLU of Texas. (To learn more about needle exchange programs, visit www.TexasAccessProject.org)
Today in Texas more than 300,000 people are infected with hepatitis C, leading to chronic liver disease and death. More than 35 percent of those infected, including almost all infants with HIV, got sick because they or their parents shared dirty needles.
Local counties and hospital districts bear most of the treatment costs, which are difficult to quantify. Whatever the local expense, the state spends an additional $100 million annually to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
During this time of fiscal crisis, a cost-effective syringe exchange program could save millions of tax dollars currently spent on expensive liver transplants, cancer- and HIV/AIDS-related treatments.
The ACLU Foundation of Texas has partnered with Capitol City Solutions to bring this issue to the attention of all concerned Texans.
We have launched a web site with the latest information on needle exchange advancements (www.TexasAccessProject.org).
Join with us. Let your state representative and senator know you support syringe exchange. Too many lives are at stake for us to be silent.
ACLU Foundation of Texas
The Access Project is a project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas.