By editorial board • 

Needle-exchange offers more up side than down

County Health & Human Services Director Silas Halloran-Steiner is defying public opinion in urging creation of a local needle-exchange serving IV drug users.

Needle-exchange programs debuted in Amsterdam in 1983. Since being introduced to the U.S. in Tacoma in 1988, it has spread to 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

It was championed in Indiana by then-Gov. Mike Pence, now serving as Donald Trump’s vice president. Agencies touting its success include the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and most other elements of the scientific and medical communities.

But even with 320 programs operating successfully in the U.S., 73 on the West Coast, polls show support for needle-exchange hovering below the one-third mark.

Scientific studies argue otherwise, but critics feel it serves to enable — even encourage — IV drug use. They also dislike tax dollars spent providing addicts with needles, enabling government to expand its reach and helping shift yet more attention from rural to urban needs.

All Halloran-Steiner has on his side is a massive body of research compiled over the last 20 years — research showing needle-exchange drastically reduces the spread of AIDS, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, which cost American taxpayers untold millions in medical expenses. That it substantially cuts the discard of dirty needles in places frequented by the public. And that it introduces addicts to testing, diagnostic, counseling and drug treatment resources they would otherwise never tap, also to the material benefit of taxpayers.

Yes, it’s a hard sell, particularly in a rural, agricultural county off the state’s major urban axis. But Halloran-Steiner has the better argument on his side, by a wide margin. And that carried the day Wednesday with the county budget committee, which voted unamimously to authorize the funding, subject to formal approval of the program itself on down the line.

Discarded needles represent one of the biggest real and imagined fears arising from the proliferation of local homeless camps. And people who will scour the countryside for returnable cans, not to mention put in long hours scrapping for spare change, will most certainly trade a dirty needle in exchange for a free replacement.

Addicts are going to get their fix one way or the other, whether we like it or not. Providing them with clean needles saves them from diseases that demand extremely costly treatment on the public dole, and helps rid our parks and streets of discarded needles in the process.

Halloran-Steiner started out seeking $58,000 from county funds. He’s later revised that downward to $38,000, to be supplemented with $60,000 from the Yamhill County Community Care Organization.

The idea of government officials distributing hypodermic needles to hard-core drug addicts is, admittedly, unsettling. But so is the idea of mothers, fathers and children having to contend with potentially disease-ridden syringes discarded along public byways.

The cost of treating diseases stemming from the sharing of dirty needles far outweighs the cost of a program designed to prevent such diseases. It’s time came long ago in Multnomah County, and now in Yamhill County as well. 

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