The Austin Chronicle

About AIDS

Texas Lege Should Follow a Rational Approach on Drugs

March 2, 2001, Columns

Sometimes only a credentialed member of "the opposition" can succeed at an unlikely, controversial task. Remember, it took the conservative Republican Richard Nixon to open the door to China, an effort that Democrats of any stripe were never able to accomplish, lest they be seen as soft on communism.

In the same vein, New Mexico's Republican Gov. Gary Johnson has taken an unusual approach in the war against drugs by treating substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice concern. He's sending a whole package of bills, eight in all, to the Legislature, an attempt so bold that it is unprecedented. Although the governor, in other respects, could be regarded as a Western conservative Republican (but not idealogue), his progressive view of the problem, based on sound science and economic rationalism, is making some state politicians uncomfortable. Johnson's unusual plan is a comprehensive program involving traditional cost-analysis methods. This writer has always contended that "true conservatives" would jump at the chance to achieve government efficiency and efficacy simultaneously, and indeed, the NM legislative atmosphere is growing more receptive. At least two of the bills are expected to pass, and three others, including one that would de-criminalize pharmacists' selling syringes to drug users, also may have a chance.

In Texas, Austin's Democratic Representative Glen Maxey, who has made a career of health care rationalism and humaneness, has introduced a bill allowing appropriately constructed needle exchange programs for harm reduction among drug users. Strong scientific evidence supports this as a tool in overcoming the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases. The Legislature would do well to vote on the basis of evidence and not on reactionary belief systems. It would save lives and money at the same time.

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.