Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Senate committee to hear needle exchange bill today

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, the cliche' goes, and it's true. Among other things, denial is also more or less official Texas state policy regarding the prevention of blood-borne infectious diseases. With a little luck and the good graces of the Texas Legislature, though, maybe that can change. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear SB 127 today by Sen. Lindsay, R-Houston, to allow local governments to run syringe exchange operations aimed at limiting the spread of HIV-AIDS and also Hepatitis C, which is five times as common. Many junkies are indigent, and, in the end, local hosptials and health services in Texas prisons and jails bear most of the cost. See prior Grits coverage here and here.

In an era when state health budgets have been slashed, you'd sure think there'd be momentum for efforts like needle exchange that are proven to prevent disease and save money. But as usual, the main opposition is not any group, but a generalized fear of being portrayed in some future campaign as promoting drug use. Health professionals and drug counselors, by contrast, like needle exchange programs because they offer an avenue to reach an otherwise difficult-to-access population. Plus they promote values of personal responsiblity and self-preservation that can be the first steps toward recovery for some addicts.

In related news, the Statesman today says Willie Nelson just shot a public service announcement regarding Hepatitis C in which he says the disease "loves the dark."
It must be thriving in Texas, then. Half of all Texans with Hep C don't know it, the Statesman reports, while Texas prisons face a Hep C crisis. Not only does Texas lack preventive needle exchange services on the outside, there are no clean tattoo facilities on the inside (have you ever known anybody who went to prison who didn't come back with a tattoo?), and right now prison health services don't test Texas prisoners for Hep C because, if they did, the state would have to pay for expensive treatments.

No comments: