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I mention in my column this week a list of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Major Decisions since his rise to “strong mayor” in January.

A minor decision might be his recent admirable stand to revive the needle-exchange program.

Members of the Union-Tribune editorial board have been awkwardly trying to criticize Sanders quite harshly recently. Friday, they blasted his announcement that he was going to try to get the program going again after it went dormant under the watch of his conservative-with-everything-but-money predecessor.

You’re not going to believe this, I know, but I disagree with the U-T.

They say the $380,000+ that Sanders wants to spend on the program (Update: I’m an idiot. Sanders doesn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars on anything. He just wants the city to allow a private foundation to perform the work.) is a waste and could be better used on “treatment beds.” They say all the mayor wants to do is reduce the harm drug abusers cause and not try to fix the problem at its source.

That ignores the reality of the program itself. It’s not meant just to hand out “paraphernalia” to “enable” drug users, it provides the only reasonable way for the medical community to interact with some of these people. The program may, someday, be the only way for the desperately ill people to get the kind of vital health information they need to know with regard to their high-risk behavior.

I wish I could take credit for that, but it’s an idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point.” Gladwell tells a compelling short tale about a study Johns Hopkins University researchers did that found the needle exchanges ended up mobilizing unique drug addicts who were singularly able to wade into the streets and “shooting galleries” and interact with their peers. Those people, then, could help spread more than just clean needles.

Now, there is a whole separate, more compelling, argument against the city spending money on a needle-exchange program: The city is, after all, quite broke and might not find the needle-exchange at the top of its priorities. That argument works a lot better with me.

Update: Turns out, I had my facts wrong. Sanders doesn’t want to spend a dime, he just wants to allow the Alliance Healthcare Foundation to spend the $386,000 to support the program. All the city has to do is give the nod.

SCOTT LEWIS

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