Texas County Court Votes To Establish State’s First Needle-Exchange Program
The Commissioners Court in Bexar County, Texas, on Wednesday unanimously voted to move forward with a pilot initiative that will establish the state's first needle-exchange program, the San Antonio Express-News reports (Finley, San Antonio Express-News, 8/15).
The Texas House in May voted 71-60 to approve a provision in a Medicaid bill (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 an amendment that would have created a statewide program. However, the program was limited to the San Antonio area after the broader program failed to gain support in the House.
According to McClendon, needle-exchange programs help to curb the spread of bloodborne diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, among injection drug users. Rep. Dianne White Delisi (R), who sponsored the Medicaid bill, did not dispute the potential public health benefits of an exchange program but said that Texas residents are concerned about whether "promoting the free exchange of needles for the illegal use of intravenous drugs is something the state should be doing." Texas is the only state that does not have a needle-exchange program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/24).
The court voted to approve spending $60,000 for a staff position and planning costs for the program beginning in October. The program likely will cost more when it begins operations, and organizers plan to seek funding from private groups to offset costs. A working group of health and government officials is designing the program and plans to launch it Jan. 1, 2008, the Express-News reports. Advocates of the program hope that if it is successful, it will be easier to pass a statewide program during the next legislative session. According to Fernando Guerra, director of the health district, about 200 new HIV cases were reported in Bexar County last year, 10% of which were among IDUs. One can "appreciate the burden of disease and the high cost" when those cases are added to the several thousand cases of hepatitis C in recent years, Guerra said.
According to the Express-News, District Attorney Susan Reed recently said that the law authorizing the exchange program is faulty. The court when approving the program expressed hope that any legal issues could be resolved, the Express-News reports (San Antonio Express-News, 8/15).