White House’s new drug treatment program: Handing out free needles to addicts

Posted on February 22, 2011

Street Outreach Services needle exchange, on t...

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From the Washington Examiner:

The Obama administration has designated intravenous needle exchanges as a drug treatment program, allowing federal money set aside to treat addictions to be used to distribute syringes to narcotics users.

The change marks a dramatic shift in the argument over needle exchange programs. Two years ago President Obama lifted the 21-year ban on federally funded needle exchange programs as a necessary evil to reduce the spread of HIV among illicit drug users. The new position, determined by the surgeon general, is that the states can receive federal funding for programs that hand out the syringes as a treatment.

The decision was based on an 11-year old study that found users provided with the free needles were five times more likely to enter drug treatment than those that weren’t given the handouts.   Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the study to surmise just how many “five time more” would total.  Regardless, the money that will be used for this program is going to be taken from other drug treatment programs that don’t make it easier for the user to keep participating in the exact behavior that isn’t wanted:

But Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, director of the University of Florida-run Florida Recovery Center, said, “Putting a needle in your arm is not recovery.” Teitelbaum said he opposed taking money from legitimate treatment programs to pay for needle exchange.

Dr. Robert L. DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health in Rockville, said it’s possible that addicts will seek treatment after getting clean syringes, but there are more cost-effective ways of getting drug users to seek treatment.

“If someone proposed giving free drinks to treat alcoholism, they’d be laughed out of the building,” DuPont said. “But in the drug world, that’s considered good science.”

A more effective way is to spend the money to go into the shelters and communities hit hard by addictions and bring the addicts into treatment, said DuPont and other drug treatment experts.

Given the White House’s logic for the needle exchange program, maybe Michelle Obama should look into a federally funded program to provide free donuts to people who promise to log a few miles a day on the treadmill since she’ such a big advocate on getting fit.