Last year, Delaware had the nation's fifth highest rate of reported HIV cases, and AIDS is the second leading cause of death among Delaware residents aged 25 to 44, but the state remains immune to harm reduction policies, specifically needle exchange programs, that have been proven to lower such numbers. And even though intravenous drug use now accounts for most new HIV infections in the state, not only does Delaware block needle exchanges, it is one of only five states that continue to block the sale of syringes without a prescription.
State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East) has tried for the past decade to win state approval for a needle exchange program in her hard-hit district, she told the Delaware News Journal. "The fact is that Wilmington is in a crisis situation. It's an epidemic," she said. But this year she didn't even bother to introduce a bill. "The reason is I've received significant opposition from fellow legislators who said I was promoting drug use," Henry said. "I've had the full support of City Council and the mayor to do a pilot program in Wilmington, but we just couldn't get that done." Still, Henry added, she will probably reintroduce her needle exchange bill when the legislature reconvenes in January.
In neighboring Maryland, a Baltimore needle exchange program is credited with reducing the HIV infection rate by 24% since 1999, according to the Maryland AIDS Administration. That and similar successes have led the American Medical Association, the Medical Society of Delaware, the American Pharmacists Association, the Delaware Pharmacists Society and even some Delaware law enforcement officials to support needle exchanges, but Delaware lawmakers aren't listening.
"Sen. Henry's heart is in the right place. She's basically trying to eliminate disease as far as AIDS and hepatitis," Newport Police Chief Michael Capriglione, president of the Delaware Police Chiefs' Council, told the News Journal.
But politicians such as Sen. Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere), who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, see needle exchanges as promoting or condoning drug use. "I think our first line of defense needs to be reducing the number of addicts in the state," Blevins told the News Journal. "That certainly starts with drug treatment and with prosecuting drug dealers. I think Delaware has done a good job with that." Meanwhile, intravenous drug users and their partners now account for more than half of all HIV infections in the state, according to figures released last month by the state health department.