Only the Washington Post, America’s flagship liberal newspaper (next to the New York Times, of course) would run a 3,000-word, ever-so-nonjudgemental article about–a needle-exchange program. You know, one of those goofball urban setups in which we, the taxpayers, make it a whole lot easier to be a heroin addict by buying free hypodermic needles for shoving the drugs into your veins and then paying someone to hand them out on every streetcorner. The idea behind the exchanges is that the best way to prevent addicts from contacting AIDS via shared needles is to subsidize their addiction.
The good news is that the article by Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, detailing a night in the life of a needle-exchange worker, tells you on exactly which corners of Washington, D.C., the needle handouts take place, so you know which neighborhoods you never want to live in–or even be in. For example, I don’t plan to shop for gas at the Shell station or shoes at the Payless store at the corner of Minnesota Avenue and Clay Street in northeast Washington, where 21 addicts, the youngest only age 15, stand in line to pick up their free syringes from veteran needle-man Ron Daniels, who handed out some 360,000 of them last year.
(The needle-exchange program that employs Daniels, Prevention Works!, is actually the only one in the country–and about 125 U.S. cities have them–for which we taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill, thanks to Congress and–see, he’s not all bad!–former President Bill Clinton. In 1998 Congress passed a law, which Clinton signed, barring the District of Columbia from using any local tax monies to pay for the fashionable needle exchanges. So Prevention Works! is a private nonprofit.)
The bad news is….where to start? Let’s start with this paragraph from Vargas’s story:
“[T]hose who come for service are as much a part of life in the city and its suburbs as they are hidden from it: a Metro employee in his uniform, a carpenter on his lunch break, a social worker in a charcoal skirt and white top, a homeless man in his wheelchair. Of course, there are addicts who can afford to buy their own syringes. But these are the ones who show up, day in and day out, waiting in a relentless line to make these free exchanges. It’s a weekly routine — twice a week for some — and faces, after a while, become familiar.”
A Metro employee? That would be the Washington Metropolitian Transit Authority, the outfit that operates the subways and buses in our city and its suburbs. The guys and gals who drive our buses and run our trains and are responsible for the daily safety of tens of thousands of commuters ranging from school-age children to old folks. And what’s this about addicts who could afford to buy their own needles picking up the free ones instead? Thank you, Mr. President! Otherwise we, like the hapless citizens of Boston, New Haven, Conn., and elsewhere, would be paying our social workers to shoot up.
Then there’s this paragraph, in which Daniels proudly describes the improvement his employer’s free needles have made in the life of “Summerfield,” who’s been doing drugs for 32 of his 44 years–that is, since he was 12:
“These days, he says, Summerfield uses sterile water, new bottle caps (for cooking the heroin), clean syringes. To an addict like Summerfield who’s been injecting heroin since 18, those are big steps, Daniels says.
“‘He is a model participant. He gets tested for everything now,’ he adds. ‘From a clinical standpoint, where I’ve seen him before, he’s doing better.”’
And then there’s this paragraph, on which I have no comment whatsoever:
“Henry Mallory, the part-time health educator [at Prevention Works!], comes in and sits on the front dining table, snacking on potato chips and soda. Mallory is transgender, and Daniels refers to him as ‘her.'”
No, I won’t even go into the moral, if not legal criminality, of subsidizing drug use by minors like that 15-year-old in Daniels’s line. But before you explode with apoplexy at the thought that your city, unlike Washington, is forcing you to underwrite this kind of madness, I’ll let Daniels himself have the last word:
“Daniels’s reaction to such arguments is usually simple: ‘They just need to be educated,’ he will say. But one Wednesday morning as he sits in front of [his] laptop, he loses that cool exterior. ‘They need to come out and experience what we really do,’ Daniels says. ‘We don’t give people syringes to use drugs. We give them syringes to reduce HIV, STDs and STIs [sexually transmitted infections].'”