Thousands of American children participated in Easter egg hunts this past Sunday.  But in  some places, there was another, more serious hunt before the kids’ event began.  In Northern Kentucky, ravaged by the heroin problem, police and fire fighters spent the hours before the Easter egg hunt combing the park for dirty needles.  (Full story here)  The dirty needle hunt occurred just days after the Kentucky Legislature adjourned, ignoring a bill that, among other provisions, would have expanded treatment for heroin addicts and provided for needle exchange programs.

The disconnect here is glaring.  Legislators disliked the needle exchange program, characterizing it as enabling drug users to continue their habit. But their stance looks a lot like cutting off of the nose to spite the face.  In short, these politicians are willing to risk kids suffering potentially fatal needle sticks rather than to allow heroin addicts access to clean needles.  It’s a position that flunks the common sense test.   Let’s take a look.

The political stance takes a very serious problem, heroin addiction, and makes it worse by spreading the risks from addicts to innocent people who may step on a dirty needle in a park, police officers getting stuck searching a suspect and even kids hunting Easter Eggs. Would these “tough on drugs” politicians really prefer the risks of HIV/AIDS to some child versus providing clean needles to addicts?  Do they prefer to keep spending millions of tax dollars on medical problems caused by dirty needles versus the minimal costs of providing clean needles?

In reality, Needle Exchange Programs are no different than the popular Designated Driver Program. We don’t like people getting drunk but the potential damage from drunken driving is worse, so we support the program.  We don’t like people using drugs, but the potential damage from dirty needles is worse.

The political stance toward the heroin problem has been periodic expressions of concern but a dogged insistence on the failed strategies of the past.  Despite almost 50 years of the War on Drugs, we now have a heroin problem that kills more people than traffic accidents, overdose deaths at an all time high, street heroin more cheaply available and at a higher purity than ever, and kids facing the risks of needle sticks at an Easter Egg Hunt. One wonders what it will take for political leaders in the country to finally admit it is time for a new direction.