tv Ali Velshi on Target Al Jazeera February 19, 2016 9:00pm-9:31pm EST
the disease to a global stage. >> thanks for watching, i'm john siegenthaler, "ali velshi on target" is next. >> i'm ali velshi. "on target" tonight. addicted in america this could save a lot of lives. america is in the midst of a heroin epidemic that has succeeded in doing what almost no other issue has done.
the problem has united politicians from all points on the ideologic spectrum. that's because democrats and republicans have seen that addiction doesn't discriminate. more than doubled most age groups and all income levels. now much of this follows a crack down on prescription pills in recent years that boosted heroin use among addicts who were looking for a cheaper more powerful high. the devastation that heroin is inflicting on many american communities, explains house appropriations chairman hal rogers and mitch mcconnell. , lifted the ban on funding
needle exchange programs. i say effectively because federal funds can now be paid for advance, staff, rent and all supplies except for needles and syringes themselves. the backing of rogers and mcconnell came after decades of republican opposition to exchange programs and it reflects kentucky's heroin problem has given the highest rate of hepatitis c in the nation. needle exchange programs are the cornerstone of harm reduction, illegal drug use is part of our world, we need to not simply eradicate them. giving injection drug users clean slings help slings helps prevent the spread of blood borne diseases.
however they remain illegal in a few dozen states. we went to one of those states, florida where a perfect storm of heroin addiction, hiv, and a lack of a needle exchange plan, have left the problem rampant. >> usually i start out with ten and i would put them in a package. >> about once a week, ordained pafort georg pastor george gibson. >> this is the type for a muscle. >> it is illegal under florida drug laws to distribute slings but for the pas
distributesyringes. tonight, he meets a heroin user we'll call jason, he asks that his real name not be used. >> hello, how are you? >> people like jason makes up gibson's clientele these days, white young and desperate to escape the problems that comes from reuse of needles. >> reusing needles is difficult, they become dull and reuse. >> this is a use that the unprotected with a needle sticking out. >> head downtown and it doesn't take long to find a used syringe lying on the street. miami dade county like other pockets of america is in the
midst of a heroin epidemic that's becoming a public health emergency. home to 10,000 injection drug users, an estimated 1 in 5 has hiv, one out of 3 has hepatitis c. >> i met with people so desperate they found a syringe on the ground, picked it up and used it. >> he's better than fighting to get a needle exchange program set up in miami dade county. >> we have the absence of any intervention to prevent disease. that is very dangerous in a city with the highest rate of hiv in the country. one out of every ten people have hiv, if they're injecting drugs and don't have cleaning vings they'rsyringesthey're going to spread it to each other. >> use of clean needles has been
shown to reduce the spread of decease by 30% or more. >> after injection it's easy to have a skin or soft tissue infection in your skin or arm. if they progress they can enter the bone bloodstream and the heart. >> a study tracking injection drug user at jackson memorial hospital found these infections in one year alone led to 17 deaths. >> we're basically withholding a treatment known to protect, not right anywhere, not right in miami. >> it's not cheap either. lifetime health care for hiv can average 6,000 a patient, 3,000 for hepatitis c. >> they are not paying with
private insurance. they are on the taxpayer's dime. >> sai state senator oscar braynon. >> infection disease elimination act. >> he's seen first hath hand the ravages of the heroin epidemic. in the district he represents, it's the poorest african american district in the state. >> just because you have help c or hiv, that doesn't stop people from having children and families. it's hard to do well in schools. how can a kid take a test when they're coming from a home where a parent is focused only on trying to get the next high. >> the program would cost about $150,000, privately paid for and led by the university of miami. but
braynon has faced the same objections time and time again. >> i still cannot bring myself to have the state put their stamp of approval on the use of illegal drugs. >> this concern about enabling drug addicts is the main reason they remain illegal in 25 states. >> i don't want the state to give them any encouragement to continue their habits. >> tukes testified that it's unlikely to believe that a use of syringes. >> whether it's a clean syringe, the best we can do when we get them into rehab and clean, the best we can do is make it so they don't have to live with a lifelong illness like hiv or hepatitis. >> would i certainly be reusing
the same needles. if i was desperate enough he would resort to using needles from someone else. >> and braynon says the program could help get addicts clean. >> 40% who have come to these programs across the country have at some point gone to rehab. >> braynon's bill has already failed to pass twice. he are remains determined to see it through. >> there are plenty of bills that we pass up here that i don't know that they affect our people at home. but this is one of those that i know will help people. >> until that day, though, george gibson continues to risk arrest with his work. a life saved, he said, is worth more than the law. >> i believe in social justice.
. >> heroin use is suffraging in rural and suburban areas in america, states including indiana, kentucky and west virginia have now launched pilot programs that give addicts access to clean syringes. early results show progress in stopping the spread of the disease among drug users. but david evans, a special advisory to drug free america says, misguided at best. abstinence he says should always be the goal. he joins me now from washington, d.c. david good to see you, thank you so much. you say abstinence should always be the goal. i guess we're not talk talking
about the goal as much as methodology to achieve that goal at the moment. on the road to abstinence maybe we can stop people from dying of heroin overdoses or contracting and spreading hepatitis c and hiv. in 2016 when we've seen usage to epidemic levels, isn't it unrealistic to say abstinence is the nearest step? >> well ali the question you should be asking is how come we're having a heroin epidemic? this is something we predicted was going to happen years ago, when people started implementing harm reduction programs and needle exchange programs. we predicted this would happen. when people perceive that drugs are not dangerous, drug use goes up. that's precisely what's happening in the united states. the bowdges has give obama administration has
given a green light to marijuana legalization -- >> you are not equating marijuana to heroin, the two don't have the same demographic. >> absolutely, absolutely, i'm a recovered addict myself and i can tell you most addicts start on alcohol or marijuana. if the intent is to cut down on disease, you should be aware that the most comprehensive study that was done on the spread of hiv infection among intravenous drug users was done in philadelphia, and they found that the most common reason that intravenous drug users contracted hiv was unsafe sex practices. needle exchange programs if they are going to be implementshould have a very strong treatment component, due duet people off drugs, that's the safest, including the public who are nondrug users, i didn't hear
anything in your previous presentation about having a strong program getting people off the drugs. >> i don't want to be hold a discussion with one answer. we've actually covered this quite a bit. the study you cited in philadelphia also cited 1 in ten used, one in 10 people got hiv from using needles from other people. the other issue is that you say that leniency in terms of drugs is the reason for the heroin epidemic. a lot of studies indicate that it's restrictions on prescription drugs or cheaper alternatives to prescription drugs which have been on the upswing. >> all of this is the same issue. >> it's not the same issue. >> not cracking down on physician pill mills, doing [simultaneous speech] >> so you're sort of lumping it all together in sort of conservative hogwash. you're a real guy who has
actually done this. let's talk facts. >> no no no, its not lumping it. we've had epidemics before and it's always followed a period of permissiveness, we had the highest drug use in the lathe 1970s, we began our efforts some people call it the war on drugs, drug use went down. during the bush administration, marijuana use went down 25% among young people. now under the obama administration which has given a green light to legalization of marijuana, colorado data just came out they've got the highest marijuana use among young people in the country now but all of this contributes to a atmosphere of being able to use drugs. >> -- mdges use. >> doesn't lead to other drugs also. >> right but the line towards marijuana and increase of marijuana, marijuana and the type of drug overdose that you
can see that can be fatal that we're talking about with heroin is not the same. as a recovered addicts there are absolute distinctions. >> absolutely not true. children who use marijuana and they practice unsafe sexual practices more than kids who don't. i think you have to look at the total package here. if needle exchange programs are going to be implemented they should have a strong legal component, getting people off the drugs getting them into health care. i was a president of an emergency medical rescue squad for many years department with many heroin overdose situations, they are very tragic, certainly we should go to anything we can do to save people's lives. but in the long run we should get back to drug prevention, we should get back to spending money on drug prevention so we don't have these epidemics that cause disease in the first place. >> right so what's the issue of accepting the idea that harm
reduction, the idea of needle exchanges, some people go further to safe injection sites is not mutually exclusive with exactly what you're preaching? proper law enforcement and efforts to get people off drugs, i don't think in the -- >> what happens is people are going to needle is exchange and not doing these other thing. put it as a total package. for example if you are going to do student drug testing in school, you shouldn't do that just by itself. you should have counseling programs. reducing the incidence of drug use which should then reduce the incidence of hiv and hepatitis c. >> there are people who are involved in harm reduction, they go around and give clean syringes and supplies to people and there are other people who are involved in counseling and various therapies. it is not a one stop shop. it would be ideal if it were but that doesn't exist. >> exactly.
there should be a total package a broad social effort to reduce drug use, move as many to abstinence as possible and that's the way to solve the problem. i think we can agree on that. let's try everything that works but right now we've got an epidemic because we've not been using tried and true techniques and now we'll have to start to -- >> hold on a second, i've got to take a break. coming up david and i will try ofind some common ground on needle exchange programs and drug addiction in america. >> what in god's name makes you think that you can handle stress, anxiety, depression... post-traumatic stress? >> the closest i got was sitting in my truck, gun in hand. >> who will save america's heroes? >> i wish he'd been able to talk to somebody. >> "faultlines". >> what do we want? >> al jazeera america's hard-hitting... >> today the will be arrested. >> ground-breaking... >> they're firing canisters of gas at us. >> emmy award-winning, investigative series.
al jazeera america. >> we're talking tonight about heroin use and needle exchange programs in america. supporters say giving addicts access to clean syringes can help stop the spread of disease among drug users. my guest tonight david evans, david, what of the tried and true techniques do you think we should have been doing more of that haven't succeeded resulted in an epidemic? it's not just a matter of enforcement in marijuana. what hasn't worked? >> i think first of all that there was federal funding cuts for prevention, for drug free schools. all of those efforts would help. the obama administration has
given a agree light to marijuana legalization. as a result we are having an explosive incident of marijuana use. drug use is number 1 among marijuana use in young people in the united states. needle exchanges stories are not -- >> i need to get you off the blaming obama about this thing. lots of states have legalized marijuana voted to do so, 25 states are doing harm reduction on heroin and syringe exchanges and kentucky, no liberal states no democratic state two conservative lawmakers in kentucky have voted to have the ban on syringe exchanges or federal funding lifted. >> when it comes to legalization of marijuana the obama administration has refused to enforce the federal law.
whit comes to marijuana to allow our food and drug administration to do its job. >> david there are all sorts of statistics that indicate that the increase in heroin usage the epidemic is not directly linked. can you say the kids who don't observe their bedtime properly could become big drug users too. there's an increase in consumption and not all about marijuana and obama. >> i'm not blaming obama for everything. >> you bring it up in every answer though sir. i'm talking specifics. this is the difficulty of a half hour show. we're talking specifics. if one were to do the things you are suggesting and attempt harm reduction through the use of syringe exchanges would you be supportive of that? >> i would be supportive of a total package. but i would have to look critically at the needle exchange program to make sure it's doing what i intended to do. a lot of times they're not. sometimes the science in these
programs has not been good because it's based on self reporting of drug addicts. but if it's part of the total package certainly it makes it a lot easier to go down for me but right now i'm seeing an emphasis on things that don't work as well and deemphasis on things that have worked in the paths. and i'd say let's go forward with the total package what's worked in the past and go forward with enforcing the message that drugs are unhealthy, they're bad for people bad for children we should not give a green light to legalizing marijuana. that causes a host of other problems. so that would be my position. i think we can agree on that. >> i think we can. >> certainly we don't want to have a heroin epidemic in the united states. >> we can agree on that. >> this isn't going to change the heroin epidemic. >> the issue we've talked about harming reduction don't actually suggest generally speaking that that's going to lead to the end of addiction on heroin.
the basic issue here is harm reduction, not spreading hiv, not spreading hep c insofar as that helps, do you support it? >> harm reduction people go way beyond that trust me. i've been dealing with harm reduction advocates for many years both on the national and international level. they go so far as to say we should license drug users, give them training on how to use drugs, they go that far. they go so far as to say that heroin should be given opeople for free and that alcoholics should be given alcohol. this is what i have been dealing with both nationally and international level or that all drugs should be legalized and commercialized. it depends on how you define harm reduction. >> right. >> i would define harm reduction as efforts that reduce the harm that drugs cause. abstinence clearly reduces the harms that drugs cause. that should be our ultimate goal.
it may not be achievable for everybody if we could get people to cut down on their drug use and get treatment. >> it hasn't been successful with teenagers and sex. >> i'm sorry, i couldn't hear that. >> it hasn't been all that sex. is. >> i think it's a completely different situation. we don't have big organizations, commercializing trying to talk kids into having sex. we do have that with the big marijuana industry. we have marijuana being sold as candy and ice cream [simultaneous speech] >> it's call television but we're talking about you can't slip marijuana in every time i'm asking you about heroin. it's two different things. >> no, they're not two different things. you talk to most addicts, people like myself, i've been in recovery 46 years, virtually
everybody started on marijuana or alcohol. this was brought up at the community antidrug coalition's meeting today and when somebody got up and said that heroin addicts usually started on marijuana they got a standing ovation. these are people this deal with this every day, people who are dealing with drug treatment and drug prevention. i represent in my law practice several drug treatment programs and you cannot separate marijuana use from heroin addiction. any other including prescription drug use. that's where it starts. >> david, thank you. thank you for the time you've taken. >> i'm glad you're calling attention to this. thanks for having me on. >> that's the show today, i'm ali velshi, the news continues on al jazeera america.
thanks for joining us on "america tonight." i'm joie chen. this is the season that many californians were counting on to make a difference. we have reported on the golden state's seemingly unending sunshine and its unending drought, a kind of situation that faces many of our communities throughout the country. el nino has brought some relief, unheard of rains and flooding in some areas. but will it be enough to stave off california's