Let's not lose sight of why needle exchange programs matter to the average non-drug using Texan: If we fail to prevent HIV and Hep C among IV drug users on the front end, taxpayers usually wind up paying many times that amount down the line - every prevented case avoids hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care.
Inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have an HIV infection rate five times higher than the general public; medications for the 1.7% of HIV-infected inmates account for more than 40% of the pharmaceutical budget under Texas' correctional managed health care contract.
Who pays for that? Those are your tax dollars, folks, paying for some of the most expensive medical treatments around. According to a 2005 USDOJ Office of Justice Policy Bulletin:
HIV-infected inmates [in FY 2003] were concentrated in a small number of States. New York (5,000), Florida (3,112), and Texas (2,460) held the largest number of HIV-positive inmates. These three States housed nearly half (48.0%) of all HIV-infected inmates in State prisons in 2003.Indeed, not only do Texas prisons and jails house a disproportionate share of inmates with HIV, they're also acquiring full blown AIDS more frequently than in other states, perhaps because of longer prison terms, health care inadequacies or who knows what other reason:
Seventeen States and the Federal system reported an increase in the number of confirmed AIDS cases, led by Texas (up 219) and Florida (191).So our folks with HIV tend to be getting sicker, perhaps because they're staying longer, meaning our costs are that much higher.
That's why this San Antonio needle exchange pilot is important for the whole state, not just Bexar County. And it's why the hubris of one District Attorney with apparently too much time on her hands shouldn't stop the project from going forward.
See prior related Grits coverage:
- Bexar officials should blow off DA's needle exchange gripes
- Prosecutors disagree whether Bexar DA justified in blocking needle exchange
- Bexar county judge elated to pioneer first Texas needle exchange
- Wow! Texas House approves needle exchange for Bexar County
- Needle exchange bill pits small government conservatives vs. authoritarian wing