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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Commentary: Needle-Exchange Program--Needed to Be Mended But Not Ended

This past week, the County Board of Supervisors on a somewhat rare party-line vote, decided to continue the needle exchange program that will cost the Yolo County taxpayers $100,000 per year.

This despite tangible evidence of problems with the program.

One of the biggest problems with the program at this point has to do with the number of unaccounted for needles.

There were 61,752 needles that were passed out but only 50,499 needles that were turned back in. That leaves 11,253 unaccounted for needles. Needles that are reportedly showing up in parks and other areas where children frequent.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad, a strong opponent of the program found it unacceptable that that many needles are unaccounted for.
"That seems like a ridiculously high number."
Supervisor Rexroad also said as he has previously that he thinks the money could better be spent elsewhere.

Back on July 2, 2008 the Vanguard interviewed Matt Rexroad but also program administrator Rachel Anderson from SANE (Safer Alternatives Through Networking and Education).
Rachel Anderson did a good job of laying out why it needle exchange is a very important and helpful program. One thing that it does is help people who would otherwise have little contact with social services get into contact with people who can help them in a setting where they can get help rather than face punishment for their drug problem. Studies have shown that not only do needle exchange programs help to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis, but it also helps to reduce the drug use.

There is always a fear that somehow a needle exchange program might encourage people to use drugs, but that seems rather farfetched. People are not likely to suddenly start using IV drugs because clean needles are available.

Given the cost of health care and the cost to the county services to care for people with these kinds of chronic diseases, if the $100,000 program even reduces the number of infections by one, it almost pays for itself.

So while I am sympathetic to Matt Rexroad's argument that he poses on the radio show that it could be better used for children's health care, I think this is still a worthwhile program to explore.

My concern however is that it is obviously listening to the testimony and reading articles that the program has administration problems. The number of unaccounted for needles is in my opinion completely unacceptable.

So what does the 3-2 majority do to tighten up the administration of this program? Not a darn thing! It does nothing.

I am a liberal who supports these kinds of programs but they darn well better work. And if they are not working right, make them work. To often the problem with government is that those who support these programs are afraid to admit when there are problems and those who understand that there are problems with the program just want to kill the program. There is thus no one invested in making the program work.

Part of the problem that some have told with this program is that everyone knew it would be a hot buttoned issue and so there was a protection mechanism from the administration of the program who tried to keep any problems at the lowest possible level in order to prevent what has now happened. The problem is that that approach clearly did not fix the problem and the program ended up in the spotlight.

Instead of trying to fix the program, everyone either tried to cover up the problems or use the problems to destroy the program.

That still does not explain or justify why the Board of Supervisors now apparently fully briefed on some of the problems with the program, made no effort whatsoever to fix the problem.

Again, I fully support the program in concept, but I remain baffled that those in charge have not made efforts to make it work better.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting