Monday, December 06, 2010

Needle exchange in Iran

Tina Rosenberg's opinion piece in the New York Times, "An Enlightenend Exchange in Iran," paints a compelling portrait of the power of treating drug abuse as health policy. Iran has successfully averted an HIV nightmare by aggressively embracing harm reduction and needle exchange. In Iran, 68% of HIV infections come from sharing a contaminated syringe. Despite its reputation as one of the most repressive regimes in the world Iran has adopted a policy of treating drug abuse as a disease, not a crime. And as health policy, drug abuse "is a health issue — not just for drug users, but for everyone" (see the follow up article, "How Iran Derailed a Health Crisis").

An excerpt from "An Enlightened Exchange in Iran":

"The rate of new H.I.V. infections in Iran rose until 2005, and has dropped ever since. A top drug control official, Saeed Sefatian, said in 2008 that 18 percent of injecting drug users were H.I.V.-positive, but estimated that if it weren’t for harm reduction, that number would have been 40 percent. New infections among drug users have continued to drop. Surveys at sentinel sites in pre-natal clinics have not yet turned up not a single pregnant woman with H.I.V. (UNAIDS report, p. 97) ─ an excellent indication that the epidemic has been contained.

By pointing out the success of this program, I do not mean to endorse Iran’s prisons, where political dissidents are being tortured. Nor does Iran’s modern approach to harm reduction redeem the government’s stone-age approach to just about everything else. The same ayatollah who told judges not to get in the way of harm reduction was the man who closed dozens of newspapers. The important point here is that even a theocracy as repressive and rigid as Iran ─ the anti-Amsterdam ─ managed to create policies that have likely saved the country from an AIDS and drug disaster."

If Iran can, why can't Texas?

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