Friday, September 12, 2008

EDITORIAL: Lancaster General and most officials ignore HIV / AIDS crisis

In Sept. 12th Intelligencer Journal, the Associated Press reports that "one in 20 of the residents in the nation's capital is believed to be infected with HIV." The article goes on to say that in response Congress has "lifted a ban on the using of local tax dollars to support needle-exchange programs."

In Lancaster, we have a very similar problem, although, thankfully, not yet to the extent of Washington D.C. Heroin use is especially endemic among the Hispanic population but also popular with Whites. Interestingly, this generation of African-Americans has learned something from watching how heroin and HIV / AIDS devastated its parents generation and is less prone to use drugs.

Just a decade ago, the county commissioners would begrudgingly only authorize ten treatment slots for heroin addicts at a Coatesville methadone clinic despite the funds coming from the federal government. They maintained – foolishly - that was adequate. Today with a now local methadone clinic treating over 300 patients and perhaps almost as many under treatment privately with the more recently legalized Suboxone, it should be clear that we have a very serious heroin problem in Lancaster.

And where there is heroin without syringe availability, inevitably there is a rapid spread of HIV / AIDS from the sharing of dirty needles, not simply among heroin users but throughout the general population through sexual contact. YES, THAT MEANS YOUR KIDS!

So what is cash flush Lancaster General Hospital doing to create a clinic to disburse clean syringes , male and female condoms, and provide medical care and consultation for addicts? Nothing.

And what is the mayor and city council doing? They are content to allow a tiny effort to be made out of a local church, but they aren’t about to do much else.

To his credit, Representative Mike Sturla is working in Harrisburg to enable addicts to purchase syringes as they are allowed to do in 46 others states. Rick Gray deserves credit for what he did to help the local church before he became mayor.

But now we need to turn to Lancaster General Hospital to take the lead. Ironically, they will benefit financially by providing a free syringe exchange since they no longer will have to absorb much of the cost of treating uninsured and indigent HIV / AIDS victims.

NewsLanc will reach out to General Hospital to seek its comment. And we will report what they tell us and what they are doing or plan to do.