The Incongruity of Needle Exchanges
Megan McCardle has an excellent little post defending needle exchanges. Along the way, though, she does point out an interesting little incongruity in the policy:
Okay, a conservative or libertarian might argue, but drug users bring this trouble on themselves; why should I a) pay for clean syringes and b) implicitly sanction their irresponsible and self-destructive behavior? Well, okay, leave aside the morality of forcing people to use dirty syringes (really forcing, since as I pointed out in the last post, junkies use dirty works partly because the government won’t let them buy clean ones legally). The problem is, needles are cheap, and treating AIDS isn’t. Given that we’re not going to let them die, it makes much more fiscal sense just to give them the needles.
The libertarian answer is to eliminate both the restrictions on needle purchase, and the government program to distribute them, and I’d support that. But given that we are clearly not going to eliminate the syringe restrictions any time soon, we might as well save money by giving junkies some clean needles.
Personally, I find it strange that needle exchange programs are growing in number, while as Megan rightly points out, “we are clearly not going to eliminate the syringe restrictions any time soon.” That’s the kind of absurdity that only government policies can create.