"Give Them Dirty Needles and Let Them Die" is the title of a new piece in AlterNet, inspired by a remark once made by Judge Judy when she went to Australia and was asked her opinion about the distribution of sterile needles to drug injectors to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
In her report, author Roseanne Scotti maintains that the judge's remark is actually a reflection of the federal government's attitude toward the clean needle program. Opponents of syringe access programs, Scotti points out, say that providing such programs "condones" drug use. The fact that several studies have shown that needle programs do not actually encourage drug use are probably irrelevant to the opposition, who not only turn their noses up at scientific research, but who also oppose anything that they can claim condones a behavior they do not like.
This is not to argue that anyone likes the idea of drug addiction, but drug addiction is a reality. One cannot help but wonder whether Judge Judy and her followers likewise condemn Rush Limbaugh to a painful death, or whether they wish former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist had died of AIDS.
According to the AlterNet piece, the rate of HIV related to shared syringes is 4% in Australia, 6% in the UK, 17% in Canada, and 22% in the U.S. Even Iran has started a syringe exchange program. In 2002, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher concluded in his report to Congress:
After reviewing all of the research to date, the senior scientists of the Department and I have unanimously agreed that there is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs . . . are an effective public health intervention that reduces the transmission of HIV and does not encourage the use of illegal drugs.
Satcher's conclusion was corroborated by the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Health Concensus Panel, and the AIDS Advisory Commissions of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. However, the U.S. remains the only country with a ban against the federal funding of clean syringe programs.