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Righting wrongs

The New York Times came out with a very strong, even harsh, editorial last week that’s worth noting.

Righting a Wrong, Much Too Late

Public health advocates held an understandably muted celebration when President Obama signed a bill repealing a 21-year-old ban on federal financing for programs that supply clean needles to drug addicts.

The bill brought an end to a long and bitter struggle between the public health establishment — which knew from the beginning that the ban would cost lives — and ideologues in Congress who had closed their eyes to studies showing that making clean needles available to addicts slowed the rate of infection from H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, without increasing drug use.

But the shift in policy comes too late for the tens of thousands of Americans — drug addicts and their spouses, lovers and unborn children — who have died from AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. Many of these people would not have become infected had Congress followed sound medical advice and embraced the use of clean needles.

It’s good for the New York Times to bring this level of condemnation to such horrific Congressional policy. Yet it means less after the fact. Surely, there are other horrific Congressional policies related to drugs that could be condemned now, and thereby avert needless loss of life, rather than merely bemoaning the loss later?

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11 comments to Righting wrongs

  • DavesNotHere

    This is not factually based at all. No one lost their life because taxpayers didn’t hand out free needles. Complete BS.

    Federal funding from taxpayers pockets of needle exchange programs is not the solution, nor cause, of any person dying of AIDS. It is entirely possible to fund needle exchange programs without stealing the paychecks of poor families.

    Looking to and counting on a federal government for all solutions, like needle exchange programs, has resulted in way more deaths than the lack of government handouts ever will.

  • Actually, it’s more complicated than you put it, Dave. Hey, I’m all for limiting the use of taxpayer money for solutions, but when you’re spending billions to make the drug war worse for people, taking it away from programs that can ease some of that damage is just cruel and makes things worse. Take away the drug war, and we won’t need federal funds for needle exchange.

    Additionally, the ban on federal funding (which is a whole lot different than just an absence of funding), encouraged states and localities to make even privately funded needle exchanges illegal (not to mention that Congress made it illegal for privately-funded exchange in D.C. for quite some time). Activists using their own funds for needle exchange have been jailed all over the country in the attempt to save lives.

    So yes, the ban on federal funding for needle exchange cost lives. Many lives. Lifting the ban is not only right, it was essential. It would be nice to reach a point where that was no longer the case, but we’ve got a long way to go to get there.

  • claygooding

    I agree that if not for the war on drugs,there would be no need for the needle exchange. Even though I have never used a needle,I have seen the damage done by them. I saw the damage before I ever got around the drugs that needles were needed for,so it was a no brainer when I was presented with the “opportunity” to do the drugs,and just ingested or snorted them.
    Not everyone is that lucky. So,yes,we need to fund needle exchange,if for no other reason than to curb the health care costs from people using “dirty” needles. The health costs alone would probably offset the expense of the program.

  • Duncan

    No ‘poor’ people’s paychecks have funded anything for the Federal gov’t. The bottom 47% of taxpayers pay either 0, or have a negative tax rate thanks to the EITC.

    http://money.cnn.com/2009/09/30/pf/taxes/who_pays_taxes/index.htm

  • Paul

    (My inner Austrian economist speaks)

    Taxes come out of everyone’s hide eventually, directly or indirectly. Directly via the income tax, sales tax, and the hundreds of other taxes out there. Indirectly through consumer prices, rent, lower salaries, and fewer employment opportunities.

    If government were more efficient than private business, we would want lots of taxes. But it is not at all as efficient, so raising taxes makes everyone poorer. This is OK and necessary in matters of defense and certain common goods, like roads, but when used for social justice we really have to recognize that the efficiency cost is huge. Justifiable to some people, of course, depending on your politics. 🙂

    That out of the way, I think it is fair to say that not having a needle exchange program leads to more dead people for the simple reason that if one had been in place, fewer people would have died of aids. This is not to say those dead people were not also responsible for their own deaths, but just that if we had the policy, fewer would had died.

    Similarly, if the FDA approved drugs quicker, quite a few more people would be alive today than under the current regime. Did the FDA indirectly kill those people because it was so slow and cautious? Yes, they did. I am inclined to view it is a more direct killing than the lack of a needle exchange program because the FDA’s victims were mostly not responsible for their own deaths.

    The FDA’s bureaucrats know, however, that if they release drugs that directly kill people because their policy is not slow and cautious enough, they will get a lot more blame for the direct deaths than they will for the indirect deaths, even though the direct deaths are far fewer in number–WHICH CAN BE PROVED by analyzing how many people would have been saved by already approved drugs had they only been available a few years sooner.

    As for the elephant in the room, the drug war is directly and indirectly responsible for a vast number of deaths. It’s probably killed more people than Small Pox, and it is certainly more directly responsible for the spread of Aids than the lack of needle exchange programs.

    I do not read the NY Times, but as a firm member of the Establishment, the Times has no doubt done their share of damage in the drug war. (I certainly don’t recall them cheer leading legalization over the last 20 years). To complain about the mote of a lack of a needle exchange programs while being a supporter of the drug war seems to be entirely missing the beam in their own eyes.

  • Bruce

    Criminology texts teach even the worst offenders are well behaved most of the time.
    Most folks are decent look out for their welfare and they might not be driven to such desperate dysfunctional lifestyles.
    The gulags of america where the only opportunities for advancement are to ride the coattails of the Military Industrial Complex whos preferred food is its own children.

  • DavesNotHere

    I’m a jerk sometimes, I know, and I apologize. But the NY Times is just empty.

    “So yes, the ban on federal funding for needle exchange cost lives.”

    I can’t agree with that. The federal government’s ban on the sale and purchase of needles cost lives. How about legalizing needles?

    I get it that because of the previous ban on needles, that junkies then needed a place to get clean needles to avoid disease and death and the federal government started handing out money to community organizers for needle exchange programs and the junkies became dependent on the federal government’s needle exchange program, but it still remains that the ban on needles was the bad policy NOT stopping the funding.

    This is just a Bush administration hit piece by the NY Times, to make the Democrats look better even though their policies are little different.

    I guess I can concede that this is better than the status quo, Pete. I don’t concede that a Wrong has been Righted though. We’re hoping two wrongs eventually make a right and completely ignoring the first wrong, which was the ban on needles to begin with. One of these days I’ll figure out how to make points like that better.

    Duncan, since you are a stat person may I suggest you now go look up the statistics on the EITC compliance rate, specifically the percentage of folks eligible that refuse to claim it. Also please note that 7.65% is unavoidable on the employer side and EITC does not cover the full 15.3%, let alone all of the income tax portion for single people. Dependent children are covered well by EITC, but it does not cover most poor people. The EITC is a Milton Friedman idea, btw. Incidentally, Barack Obama himself made these criticisms of the EITC program back when he was a state senator and was introducing a state EITC program for Illinois. At that time I believe more than 60% of EITC were just done wrong and more than 30% of eligible people didn’t even claim it. A $25,000 standard deduction for everyone would be easier and more effective.

    I wish it weren’t true Duncan, but yes, in fact, poor people do pay federal income taxes. It shouldn’t be that way.

  • Paul

    @Davesnothere:

    “I can’t agree with that. The federal government’s ban on the sale and purchase of needles cost lives. How about legalizing needles?”

    Good point! I can get so stuck in a rut thinking about these things that I sometimes miss something obvious. I was thinking that the only choice was the needle distribution plan or nothing, which was rather dim of me.

    Certainly, the best idea would be to sell needle packs behind the counter in pharmacies without requiring a prescription. That would be the true libertarian solution. The liberal/nanny solution is the needle exchange program because they don’t trust adults not to buy needles and then…do something wrong with them, whatever that may be (My imagination fails me here).

    Knives are dangerous, too, and any fool can buy a knife and do something stupid with it.

  • Duncan

    If a person qualifies for the EITC and doesn’t claim it, that doesn’t mean he’s been forced to pay a tax. If a person is due a refund because of excess with holdings and doesn’t claim it that doesn’t mean his tax rate has been raised.

    It is disingenuous to bring social security/medicaid since that’s a totally different budget. But since you have done so, perhaps you’d like to consider the cost to the taxpayer of a lifetime of HIV medication and treatment on Medicaid’s dime, and the monthly SSDI payments that the infected now qualify for due to their illness.

    If it’s the cost to taxpayers that has you genuinely concerned, I submit it’s a lot cheaper to buy and distribute sterile needles than to pay for the subsequent treatment. It’s not likely many IV drug addict will be able to foot the bill for their disease when it happens. Not to mention the collateral damage and potential for public costs when they spread it to non-using partners.

    What makes people think you can’t buy syringes without a prescription? A quick google search finds that untrue. Here’s some examples from just the first page of the search:

    http://www.sterilesyringes.com/
    http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/682951
    http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/04/12/9197.aspx
    http://www.aidschicago.org/pdf/2005/prevention/scpp_palmcard.pdf
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Can_you_buy_syringes_without_prescription
    http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/601/pennsylvania_syringe_sales_without_prescription
    http://www.google.com/products?hl=en&source=hp&q=syringe+without+prescription&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=-ok8S8u2KMXYlAeu-4GgBw&sa=X&oi=product_result_group&ct=title&resnum=11&ved=0CE4QrQQwCg

    The fact of the matter is that a person heavily addicted to serious narcotics cares only about getting his fix, and all money becomes representative of the drug. It requires planning and money for an addict to acquire sterile syringes, both in notoriously short supply among IV drug users.

    It is penny wise and dollar foolish to refuse to provide sterile syringes to IV drug users. It is detrimental to public health as well. It is completely without merit to complain about the cost when the costs of not doing something are more than of doing it.

  • Brandy

    You know, I have to agree, it’s screwed up that our tax dollars pay for needles. It’s even more screwed up when our Police Department’s wont do their job’s when reporting a crime. I don’t know who is worse. For years there have been reports on my neighbor for dealing drugs, and when I personally see him with a gallon freezer bag of cocaine right on the street the police will not come to our neighborhood to arrest him. We don’t live in Harlem, or New York, or anywhere that is presumed dangerous. I live in a little town with less than 2000 residents in the whole county! How screwed up is that?!? So War on drugs! My Ass!