The Austin Chronicle

Needle Exchange Clears Committee

By Jordan Smith, March 13, 2009, News

Greenville GOP Sen. Robert Deuell's bid to let local health departments establish anonymous hypo-needle-exchange programs (Senate Bill 188) made it out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with just two votes against it. The measure is intended as a harm-reduction and communicable-disease-control program. Simply put, giving addicts clean needles cuts down on the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis; the program would also be an access point for drug treatment and disease screening and counseling. Texas is the only state that does not allow some form of needle exchange.

Voting against the measure was Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and newbie Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who took over the District 17 seat vacated by Sen. Kyle Janek. (In 2007, Janek, as a member of the committee and as a member of the whole Senate, voted in favor of needle exchange.) Despite the two naysayers, the bill, which the Depart­ment of State Health Services says could prevent as many as 100 new HIV cases each year (which in turn could save the state millions – treating the uninsured for HIV costs the state roughly $385,000 per person), the measure will now move to the entire body for consideration.

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