ACLU Applauds Governor for Signing Texas’ First Needle Exchange Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
June 14, 2007 12:00 am

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Pilot Program Set to Begin in Bexar County on Sept. 1, 2007

AUSTIN – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas today applauded Governor Rick Perry for signing a Medicaid reform bill authorizing the first legal needle exchange program in Texas. The new law brings Texas up to date with most other states in the nation by starting a safe, legal needle exchange pilot program in Bexar County this fall.

“Needle exchange has become a standard disease prevention practice around the country, and we commend Representative Ruth Jones McClendon, Senator Robert Deuell and the rest of the legislators who worked hard to bring this important public policy measure to Texas,” said Tracey Hayes, Director of the Access Project at the ACLU of Texas.

This year, Senator Deuell and Representative McClendon teamed up to sponsor the bill, SB308/HB 856, which was originally proposed to authorize needle exchange programs statewide. The bill passed through the Senate, but appeared to die in the House Public Health Committee when the Chair did not call for the committee’s vote. Rep. McClendon resurrected the concept by attaching an amendment to the Medicaid bill. Her amendment allows the health authorities in Bexar County to design and operate the program, which is expected to reduce disease and improve outreach to injection drug users.

Representative McClendon, who represents part of San Antonio and Bexar County, said, “The public health and safety of Texas requires that we offer public health programs that prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Fiscal responsibility also requires that preventive programs be made available, and this is just one way that we can begin to curb the spread of hepatitis and HIV in geometric proportions. I am pleased that we can begin this process with a pilot program in Bexar County.”

Disease prevention is the goal of most needle exchange programs, but they also provide an opportunity to connect addicts to treatment. After filing the bill, Senator Deuell said, “The local health authorities who administer these programs may also provide drug counseling and treatment. This might be the only time we can get to these people and give them the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. One study showed more than 1,000 drug users found their way into treatment through a needle exchange program.”

San Antonio has a history of strong and outspoken support for needle exchange. Representative McClendon said, “In particular, we especially appreciate the encouragement received from Judge Nelson Wolff, Sheriff Ralph Lopez, Dr. Fernando Guerra of San Antonio Metro Health, and other local foundations and healthcare organizations. This pilot program is bound to be successful.”

Representative Garnet F. Coleman, who sponsored needle exchange legislation in years past added, “After working on this issue for two sessions, now we have a state-sanctioned opportunity to save lives through needle exchange. Hopefully this pilot program will lead to legislation next session that sets up needle exchange programs statewide.”

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