Texas Officials Studying Needle-Exchange Program

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Needle-Exchange Program

Health officials in BexarCounty, Texas, are considering if they should launch the state's firstneedle-exchange program in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV and otherbloodborne diseases, but Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed has saidthat she will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who distributes needles beforethe program is approved, the LosAngeles Timesreports (Bustillo, Los Angeles Times, 1/28).

The Bexar County Commissioners Court in August 2007 unanimously voted to moveforward with a pilot initiative to establish the program. The court voted toapprove spending $60,000 for a staff position and planning costs for the program.The program likely will cost more when it begins operations, and organizersplan to seek funding from private groups to offset costs.

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The Texas House in May 2007 voted 71-60 to approve a provision in a Medicaidbill (SB 10) that would establish the state's first needle-exchange program in Bexar County,which includes San Antonio.Rep. Ruth McClendon (D), who sponsored the provision, initially tried to add anamendment that would have created a statewide program. However, the program waslimited to the San Antonioarea after the broader program failed to gain support in the House. Followingthe vote from the County Commissioner's Court,Reed recently said that the law authorizing the exchange program is faulty (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/20/07). TheTexasattorney general is reviewing the situation, according to the Times.

Texas is theonly state nationwide that does not have a needle-exchange program, the Timesreports. Reed, who is opposed to the initiative, said that people whodistribute needles before the program is approved do not have "any kind ofcriminal immunity." San Antonio police earlier this month arrested threeindividuals from the Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition for distributingneedles to injection drug users and commercial sex workers, the Times reports(Los Angeles Times, 1/28).

Related Editorial

The recent arrests make a"mockery of clear thinking in this state when it comes to containinginfectious disease among" IDUs, a HoustonChronicleeditorial says, adding that Reed is doing "her best to thwart" theinitiative. The Texas Legislature should "revisit this issue in the nextlegislative session," the Chronicle says. Texas "needs afully funded, statewide needle-exchange program run by local public healthofficials," the editorial says, adding that the state should"protec[t]" people who provide clean needles from "overlyaggressive prosecutors" (Houston Chronicle, 1/28).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Reportis published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. KaiserFamily Foundation.

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