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Promoting Degeneracy in Idaho: Needle-Exchange Programs, Part 1



The Biden Administration recently announced plans to distribute crack pipes in “safe smoking kits” as part of its $30 million “harm reduction” grant.


Conservatives across the country objected. The Biden Administration issued denials and tried to disown the grant program. Nevertheless, programs to promote “harm reduction” in various forms persist throughout the federal government, often in the form of grants to states who then administer “harm reduction” programs.


But if the Biden Administration lost that battle, it is winning the war. Harm reduction seems to be official government policy. Even in Idaho.


Needle exchange and clean syringe programs were not legal in Idaho until House Bill 180 passed in 2019, over conservative objections in the House and the Senate. Needle exchange and clean syringe programs were legalized when Gov. Brad Little triumphantly signed the bill into law.


The original bill seemed modest. It allowed for needle exchanges only in certain circumstances. Conservatives in Idaho's House and Senate worried that the needle exchange bill would encourage more drug use and that needle exchange programs would soon leap over the limits set in the law. This is what happens with medical marijuana laws. The use of marijuana is legalized for some medical purposes, but it quickly becomes legal for recreational use as well because no one wants to police the boundary between medical and recreational use. That is exactly what happened with Idaho's needle exchange and clean syringe law. Needle exchange programs popped up to prevent trash collectors from being accidentally poked by a stray needle, but those programs soon began to abet all drug users. House Bill 180 created the environment for federal money to fund full-blown needle exchange programs in Idaho.


Idaho’s government indirectly supports such programs, though not by funding them. Idaho’s Health and Welfare Department (IHWD) acts as a gatekeeper for “harm reduction” efforts related to drugs. Here’s how the program works. A health program manager at IHWD, it appears, helps local groups apply for federal “harm reduction” grants. A chosen group—Idaho Harm Reduction Project, in this case—applies for and receives money from the national Substance Abuse Block Grant Program. Money from this grant flows to the Idaho Harm Reduction Project (IHRP). Then IHRP hires people to administer the programs with the federal money. It currently has 8 people on staff. The Block Grant Program has provided in excess of $6 million to Idaho since 2018.


IHRP cannot purchase needles for needle exchange programs by state law. To overcome this problem, IHRP finds “community partners” to buy needles and other “harm reduction” instruments. These partners—including Trivium Life Services, Recovery Idaho, and the Center for Behavioral Health—supply what IHRP needs to promote the cause of “harm reduction.”

Central to this project is IHRP, which aims to educate Idaho communities “on sharps safety, proper disposal” and to provide needle exchanges for drug users.


In 2020-2021, the IHRP provided nearly 500,000 sterile syringes to Idahoans for heroin use, according to its own count. It helped dispose of nearly the same number of needles safely. It hopes to double the number of needles distributed during 2021-2022. That would mean a million heroin needles. To accomplish this, it has launched a “harm reduction vending machine” dispensing syringes in multiple sizes to would-be drug users. IHRP is active throughout Idaho, but especially in Ada County, Bannock County, and Canyon County.


IHRP also puts on seminars on “booty bumping,” “boofing,” and “plugging”—all ways of ingesting opioids through the rectum. IHRP’s education projects appear to be available for high schoolers and below.


More people seem to be using opioids in the post-needle exchange Idaho. Figures for opioid use are notoriously difficult to arrive at. Idaho ranks 19th among American states in adult drug use (with more than 10% of Idahoan adults using drugs), but its rate is below the national average. It seems to be increasing. Overdose deaths in Idaho were up 12% from 2019-2020 and then again 21% from 2020-2021. Emergency room visits traceable to opioid use were up again the next year, though the data are not final.


Precisely how much such “harm reduction” programs reduce harm depends on what we mean by harm.


The second installment is available here.

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