Concerning spine and clean needles

Needle exchange for addicts is like driver’s licenses for illegals.
The merits point one way, the politics point the other way.
Guess which of the two Democratic candidates is facing the right way?

Revised due to new information: See Update below

There aren’t many more hated/feared/despised social categories than “illegal immigrant,” but “heroin addict” is almost certainly one of them. The addict version of the driver’s license issue is needle exchange.

It turns out Barack Obama is, and Hillary Clinton is not, willing to take political flak on behalf of the addicts (and of course their sexual partners, and the sexual partners of their sexual partners, and their children) too.

By contrast with the early 1980s, when needle exchange (or syringe legalization) might have put a major dent in the HIV epidemic (and later in the Hep-B and Hep-C epidemics) by now needle exchange comes too late to do any huge amount of good. But it demonstrably does no harm. And for a Democratic candidate, as late as last summer, to be waffling about “looking at the evidence” when the evidence was in more than a decade ago, is just appallingly dishonest, like Republicans demanding more evidence on global warming.

Somewhat to Clinton’s credit, she quickly backed down when challenged on this point and admitted that the problem was political, not scientific. But “We’ll have as much spine as we possibly can, under the circumstances” isn’t quite the tone I’d like to hear from my candidate.

Update I hadn’t seen this story when Ben Smith ran it last summer; I just ran across a link to Politico tonight. In one sense the story is now out of date; HRC seems to have changed her mind about needle exchange late in the fall. Her position on spine remains to be determined.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: