There's been a slight but welcome thaw in the Republican ban on federal money for needle exchange programs, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Pushed by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the ban has always been more about optics than policy. There is no evidence that trading free, clean needles for dirty ones encourages illicit drug use while abundant evidence shows it limits the spread of dangerous infections like HIV and hepatitis C through sharing dirty needles.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers has directed tons of anti-drug money to his southeastern Kentucky district, largely for enforcement. Rogers, R-Somerset, has supported the federal funds ban even as hepatitis C tripled in Appalachia, to more than six times the national average.
Needle exchanges weren't legal in Kentucky until they were permitted as part of an anti-heroin bill passed this spring. Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky will soon have programs but cash-strapped rural communities won't.
Rogers, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and other Republicans are considering permitting federal funds for drug treatment programs that include needle exchanges but not to buy needles.
It's not enough, but it's progress that can save lives.