March 18, 2009
Senate OKs needle exchange

Well, the Senate did manage to do one good thing today.

By a 23-7 vote -- not enough for immediate final passage to the Texas House -- senators approved Senate Bill 188 that will allow local health departments to begin one-for-one exchanges of syringes along with drug-abuse education and prevention programs.

"I know this has been somewhat controversial," said Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, the author. "Texas is the only state in the nation that does not allow this. People think it will increase drug use. It won't.

"It decreases HIV. It decreases Hepatitis B and C. It saves the state money. It reduces the number of dirty needles in the community."

The no votes were all among Deuell's fellow Republicans: Sens. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bend; Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

There are three companion bills to SB 188 in the House, with HB 142 being listed as identical. The Observer has more.

The bill would allow health departments to begin exchanging clean syringes for dirty ones, one-for-one, in conjunction with increased drug education programs in an effort to fight the spread of diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B.

According to Deuell, half of HIV infections in Texas are injection-related. Texas is currently the only state that does not allow these exchange programs to occur.

Deuell's opposition believes that an exchange program would encourage increased drug use. But Deuell says, "There have been countless studies that shows that it does not increase drug use."

Deuell also argued that an exchange program would save the state money by lessening the tremendous medical cost associated with these diseases.

"I know this is a hard vote for some of you," said Deuell in an appeal to his colleagues to favor pragmatism over ideology on this issue. "It shows up on scorecards and we hear from people that oppose this despite the facts."

Never let the facts get in the way of ideological purity, I guess. I daresay all of the No voters would claim moral reasons for their opposition. Maybe it's just my perspective as someone who grew up Catholic, but I don't see the morality in opposing something that would save lives and help people like this. I just don't get it.

The good news is that this is likely to pass the House as well. It probably would have passed in 2007, but was never allowed out of committee by now-retired Rep. Dianne Delisi. The bad news is that it will need a similar margin in the House, because it's going to get vetoed.

"The governor is opposed to the needle-exchange proposal," said Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle. "We need to focus on substance abuse prevention, not providing an incentive to continue illegal drug use."

Yes, and I'm sure the Governor is out there pushing for more funding for substance abuse programs, because that's just the kind of guy he is. Patricia Kilday Hart has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 18, 2009 to That's our Lege

"Never let the facts get in the way of ideological purity, I guess. I daresay all of the No voters would claim moral reasons for their opposition."

Very well put. Let people die. Shame them, Blame them, but never ever Name them. We cannot keep on like this. We don't have the luxury of hate anymore.

Posted by: othniel on March 19, 2009 12:44 AM
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