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Needle Exchange Budget Cuts: A Blow to Public Health

Needle Exchange Budget Cuts: A Blow to Public Health

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needle exchange, doc gurley, jan gurley, addiction, drug abuse, public health, reporting on health

Public health, particularly for the homeless and disenfranchised, just took a big step backward.

Pushed by hardball GOP tactics in negotiating the funding of federal government operations for 2012, federal funding for needle exchange programs nationwide was removed from the 2012 budget.  This is a huge blow for public health.

Needle exchange is a simple concept. For all the furor and energy and debate that surround it, the bottom line is beautifully concise: if we safely take dirty drug injection needles out of our community, we all benefit. And that concept has been proven true, over and over and over and over again.

By preventing outbreaks of disease down the line, spending a little money now saves spending more money later. It's essentially equivalent to preventative maintenance on a car engine. Without needle exchange programs, we may well see a rise in HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases. That will end up costing the nation more than the costs of these inexpensive and highly effective programs.

Needle exchange programs offer dignity and compassion to people whom the world, in general, no longer sees or acknowledges. Needle exchange may be saving all of us whopping amounts of money through "cost-effective" years-of-life-saved and (literally) 500 overdoses reversed here in San Francisco and untold numbers of HIV and Hepatitis C infections prevented.

The current national healthcare debate has on one side a group that decries preventative healthcare measures as unnecessary and "expensive." That approach ignores the ripple on effects on the rest of the economy when people get sick and as a result have higher healthcare costs at the same time as their ability to contribute economically declines.

Removing funding from needle exchange programs is a classic example of that kind of short-sighted thinking.

Related Posts:

Substance Abuse: High Costs

Living and dying in the Tenderloin: Substance abuse and Nate

Blog: Doc Gurley's Urban Health Beat

Photo credit: Todd Huffman via Flickr

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