Monday, March 16, 2009

Abilene Reporter News op-ed: It's time to consider needle exchange program

Sunday's edition of the Abilene Reporter News featured an opinion piece on the benefits of allowing syringe/needle exchange programs in Texas. The author of the op-ed, Dr. William Martin, is a Senior Fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and an expert on the issue.

At the end of the piece, Dr. Martin addresses why he believes Texas has not already implemented such programs:
Given the overwhelming evidence, why have policymakers resisted establishment of such proven lifesaving programs? Why have politicians and platforms of both major parties repeatedly vowed, "Not a dime for needle exchange programs!"? The real reason may be fear that any sign of being "soft on drugs" will hurt their standing among people who have not looked at the issue. But the rationale most commonly, often honestly, offered is, "It sends the wrong message."

Before we accept that rationale, we need to think about the message we send to IDUs: "We know a way to dramatically cut your chances of contracting a deadly disease, then spreading it to others, including your unborn children. It would also dramatically cut the amount of money society will have to spend on you and those you infect. But because we believe what you are doing is illegal, immoral and sinful, we are not going to do what we know works. As upright, moral, sincerely religious people, we prefer that you and others in your social orbit die."

The Texas Legislature is considering a bill to permit needle exchange programs. No responsible person wants to encourage drug abuse. No fiscally prudent person wants to waste money simply to satisfy a sense of righteous indignation. No compassionate person wants to consign people unnecessarily to death or a living hell. Fortunately, providing injecting drugs users with access to sterile syringes allows us to be responsible, prudent and compassionate -- admirable criteria for good public policy.
To read more of Dr. Martins work on this subject visit

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