Needle exchange and the District 4 race

Heroin use has been rising steeply in our area: this Frederick Gorilla article has details. Users mostly go to Baltimore to buy their supplies. The state of Maryland already authorizes a needle-exchange program aimed to reducing the rate at which users spread debilitating diseases to each other through sharing injection works. Legislators this past term voted to relax the program’s rules slightly so as to permit exchanges on other than a 1-to-1 basis.

Del. Michael Hough vehemently opposes needle exchange, and has chosen to make this an issue in his primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley (R-New Market). Brinkley believes (as do most experts) that this low-cost way of preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis will actually save taxpayers money over the long run, aside from its humanitarian impact. I’m a libertarian who’d like the state out of drug issues entirely, but campaigning against this one tiny program strikes me as being like watching the state spend millions treating polio or tetanus and then getting all bent out of shape when it asks to spend thousands on vaccines.

Dave Schmidt, who ran for Alderman last year on the Republican line in Frederick, wrote on his Facebook page:

…Making this about a waste of taxpayer dollars is not only misleading, and dangerous thinking, it is wholesale inaccurate. There is case study after case study that proves that a clean-needle program will not only save lives, but lower the government cost burden over time. There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that someone suffering from a disease (even if they acquired it voluntarily) should be forced to live an ever increasingly destructive lifestyle because we don’t like what they do. Even if it is despicable in my mind to make this about money, or placing a dollar figure on the life of a fellow citizen, that argument is invalid. This should be about how we care for those sick and unable to care for themselves. Providing a path out, not shutting the door in their face because its going to cost us a dime up front.

For more data, here’s a 2008 report affirming needle exchange effectiveness from S. Robert Lichter’s STATS, the statistical center (often perceived as leaning right of center) at George Mason U. in Virginia and a 2005 paper from the Centers for Disease Control.

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