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Commentary & Opinion
Texas Needle-Exchange Bill Deserves "Fair Hearing" in State House, Editorial Says

April 3, 2009

The Texas Legislature should give a bill (S.B. 188) to establish a needle-exchange program a "fair hearing so that Texas can join the other 49 states in allowing the creation of programs that save lives and save taxpayer money," a San Antonio Express-News editorial says. The bill, authored by state Sen. Bob Deuell (R), was "overwhelmingly approved" by a 23-7 vote in the Senate, which "mirrors the passage of essentially the same bill by a 23-6 margin in 2007," the editorial says. "Unfortunately, the previous bill died an unnatural death" in the House Public Health Committee during the last legislative session after former Rep. Dianne Delisi (R), chair of the committee at the time, "refused to allow the needle-exchange bill to come up for a vote," the editorial continues, adding that Delisi is "no longer in a position to block this important legislation."

The "great myth about needle exchange is that it subsidizes and encourages illegal drug use," the editorial says. However, "the drug use is already taking place," and studies regarding needle-exchange programs in the U.S. "demonstrate they do not increase illegal drug use," the editorial continues. From the "perspective of public health and safety," communities "have a choice of whether [injection] drugs users will reuse dirty needles they already have -- and thereby spread lethal communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C -- or have access to clean needles," the editorial says. According to Deuell, 50% of new HIV cases and 40% of hepatitis C cases are related directly or indirectly to injection drug use, and they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money per case. "One instance of prevention would more than pay for the investment in a low-cost needle-exchange program," the editorial states.

The bill "does not require communities to create needle-exchange programs" but "simply gives them the option to do so," the editorial says. In 2007, Bexar County attempted to launch a pilot program, but the "effort ran headlong into the state's statutory backwardness," the editorial continues, concluding, "The Legislature should finally give Bexar County and other municipalities the ability to invest in a proven life-saving and cost-saving effort" (San Antonio Express-News, 4/1).

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