[HARMRED] Needle-exchange programs: a dangerous proposition
abell at pppgh.org
Thu Dec 9 19:51:48 CST 2010
Have folks seen this nasty column from the Washington Examiner? Anyone
working on a response?
There is also a slightly longer version on BlackAmericaWeb.com at
By Gregory Kane
Created Dec 8 2010 - 8:05pm
Gregory Kane: Needle-exchange programs: a dangerous proposition
There are just plain silly ideas, and then there are downright dangerous
A dangerous idea has taken root among some people living in this city, the
nation's capital. And it's the idea that the congressional ban on needle
exchange programs in Washington led to the increase in the spread of HIV.
I heard this nonsense in a documentary called "The Other City," currently
running intermittently on the cable and satellite channel Showtime. The film
opens with a graphic showing three cities: Port au Prince, Haiti,
Washington, and Dakar, Senegal. A voice asks which of the three cities has
the highest rate of HIV infections.
The correct answer is Washington, and the filmmakers, courtesy of D.C. Del.
Eleanor Holmes Norton and Washington Post columnist Colbert King, waste no
time ferreting out the dastardly culprits who are responsible for the HIV
If you thought either of them would dare point the finger of blame at the
people who knowingly and willfully engage in the at-risk conduct that leads
to HIV infections, then you haven't been tuned in to the American Zeitgeist
of the past 30 or so years. Those who engaged in unprotected sex or shared
contaminated needles used to inject heroin weren't engaging in irresponsible
conduct. Oh no.
If personal responsibility were an actual person, it would be fair to say
that the poor chap had been dragged kicking and screaming into our streets
and fatally shot between the eyes.
No, those infected with HIV are victims. And since victims must have
victimizers, it's only appropriate to dredge some up. And fewer than 30
minutes into "The Other City," King let viewers know who the real
victimizers are: Members of Congress, for failing to approve a clean needle
exchange program for D.C.'s addicts.
"If it were possible legally, which it's not," King said, "you could bring a
wrongful death lawsuit against the Congress. You're talking about actions
that the government failed to take, that could have been taken, should have
been taken that could have prevented somebody's death. Yeah, they're
Later in the film, Norton added her two cents worth.
"The federal ban is nonsensical," she told an activist advocating for needle
exchange in her congressional office. "The ban is, in my judgment, chiefly
responsible for the enormous foothold that the virus got here in D.C.
Failure to have needle exchange allowed the disease to be silently passed
through the population, insidiously, and in a most deadly fashion. For that,
where we sit now, the Congress of the United States, is chiefly
Not "partly responsible." Not "played a minor role" or "played some role."
Those of us more grounded in reality know the situation is a bit more
complex than either Norton or King think it is. Any needle exchange program
assumes one thing not necessarily true: That a population that is by
definition irresponsible is suddenly going to conduct itself in a
And how do we know a needle exchange program would save lives? What if an
addict harms himself or someone else while high on heroin injected from a
clean needle? And can't addicts fatally overdose on heroin, even if it's
injected with a clean needle? In what sense is that life "saved"?
Norton may not remember Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, but many of us not
living in her alternate universe of her own creation do. He was a massive
pro football player who fatally overdosed on heroin 47 years ago.
No word on if the needle he used was clean or dirty.
Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion
journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.
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