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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Chron editorial: Let's cater to Texas junkies

Are you a degenerate criminal disease-spreading heroin addict? If so, the Chronicle is on your side:
A hearing is scheduled today in Austin on Senate Bill 127, authored by Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston. It would allow intravenous drug users to anonymously exchange their dirty — and frequently infected — paraphernalia for sterile needles and syringes provided by public health agencies.
Yeah, if there's anything that helps health authorities quash epidemics, it's anonymity.
If compassion isn't persuasive enough, lawmakers should consider the massive costs to taxpayer-funded health programs such as Medicaid and the Harris County Hospital District. They must care for patients whose infection could have been prevented by a simple and cheap sanitation measure. According to statistics compiled by the Communicable Disease Prevention Project of the Texas ACLU, the average yearly cost for a local syringe exchange program is $169,000, while the lifetime cost of treating one person infected with HIV is $119,000 — $100,000 for a victim of Hepatitis C. If such programs had prevented just 5 percent of the 113,000 HIV and hepatitis C cases reported in Texas between 2000-2003, a half billion dollars in health costs would have been saved.
The Chron's editors are being a bit disingenuous here. They're offering only two options: either enable drug use by handing out free needles, or shell out millions to pay for HIV and hepatitis C treatment. But I've got a little suggestion behind Door Number Three: track HIV cases. We should have mandatory registration of HIV and Hepatitis C-positive individuals in public hospitals and jails. The transmission of HIV by a registered person should be criminalized and punished. You stop epidemics by identifying the carriers, monitoring the spread of the disease at the interpersonal and population levels, and stopping carriers' ability to transmit the disease to others. You don't do it by handing out syringes.

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