I'm excited to point out that Sen. Bob Deuell's SB 308 allowing local governments to decide whether to operate needle exchange operations will get a hearing this morning in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. With a Republican physician as bill sponsor there's a chance support for this bill might finally galvanize in the Senate - a majority of senators supported the bill in 2005, but not quite the 2/3 needed for passage.
The Texas Medical Association supports the bill, and the idea has been endorsed by many major medical groups. Deuell's legislation was given a boost from Texas Monthly's Evan Smith having an article and letter on the subject messengered to senators last month. Even the conservative blog, The Lone Star Times, came out in favor of the bill this spring. The Drug Policy Alliance sent out an action alert to its Texas membership that included an excellent summation of why the bill makes sense from the perspective of economics and public health:
Texas has the fourth highest rate of HIV/AIDS infections, almost 400,000 people infected with hepatitis C, and about 100,000 injection drug users who turn to the streets and alleyways to find and share scarce syringes. 20-25% of Texas HIV cases can be traced to syringe sharing, and hepatitis C is present in the blood of 70-90% of injection drug users. Texas must enact effective and inexpensive measures to stem the spread of these diseases.This is the third session in a row the bill was carried in the Senate by a Repubican; the previous two terms Sen. Jon Lindsay, a former Harris County Judge, now retired, carried the ball. You can go here to watch the live broadcast at 4:30 p.m., or if you want to watch later the video will be posted here soon after the hearing is completed.
From 2001-2005, Texas spent $377 million Medicaid dollars treating HIV/AIDS, and $134 million treating hepatitis C. As both diseases continue to spread and the costs compound, Texas health care providers continue to struggle to meet the needs of ailing patients as budgets get cut, access to health care decreases and effective prevention measures are overlooked. SB 308 is an effective and proven way to significantly decrease the amount of tax payer dollars necessary to treat preventable infections. A 2006 study estimated that every HIV infection averted will save over $300,000 health care dollars. If syringe exchange programs prevented just 5% of the average 4,000 HIV cases identified in Texas each year, we would avert $60 million in long-term HIV treatment costs.
Syringe exchange programs not only decrease HIV/AIDS, but also cast a net to pull high risk populations into social services and support networks that can provide addiction treatment assistance, disease testing and prevention information, and trusted contact with health care providers.