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January 29, 2008

Texan Arrested for Distributing Clean Needles

A 73-year-old lay chaplain in Texas is facing jail time for handing out clean needles to drug addicts to prevent the spread of HIV, an act that is illegal in the state of Texas, reports the Los Angeles Times (latimes.com, date).

Bill Day, who is living with AIDS, calls the distribution of clean needles, “a moral imperative.” His church funds his nonprofit organization, the Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition. Day, who was told upon his AIDS diagnosis more than a decade ago that he only had two weeks to live, says he does not want anyone else to go through what he experienced.

Texas is the only state in the country that does not have a needle exchange program. Day was arrested earlier this month on drug paraphernalia charges when a San Antonio police officer saw him exchanging syringes with drug users, reports the Times.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of all U.S. AIDS cases are due to intravenous drug use.

“There is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe-exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV-prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention that reduces transmission of HIV and does not encourage the illegal use of drugs,” U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said in 1998.

Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed says public health officials are determining whether or not they should launch a needle-exchange program, and that anyone who distributes needles in the meantime would be prosecuted. “I'm telling [local officials] and I'm telling the police chief, I don't think they have any kind of criminal immunity,” she said.

Day’s supporters are outraged at his arrest. “How silly to arrest senior citizens who are trying to stop the spread of HIV in their community,” said Jill Rips, deputy executive director of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. “Don't police have something better to do?”


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