Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jan 2008
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: B08
Copyright: 2008 The Washington Post Company
Authors: Naomi Long, Bill Piper


Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.)
should be congratulated for accomplishing last year what many said was
impossible, repealing the federal ban prohibiting the District from
spending its own money on syringe exchange programs to reduce the
spread of HIV-AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. Because
of their leadership, thousands of lives will be saved. If Congress
takes the next step and repeals the national syringe ban, hundreds of
thousands of lives could be saved.

Lifting the local funding ban could not have come at a more critical
time. A D.C. government report released in November showed that
Washington still has the highest HIV-AIDS rate in the nation. Nearly
21 percent of all cases of HIV transmission in the District are
attributable to injection drug use.

The D.C. government recently announced that it will invest $650,000 in
needle exchange programs to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS [Metro, Jan.
3]. The city should be applauded for this move. It is a major
investment toward the creation of a comprehensive continuum of care
for drug users that includes getting people into drug treatment and
linking them to medical care, rapid HIV counseling and testing, and a
comprehensive medication adherence program.

Still, more needs to be done.

The District should amend its paraphernalia laws to make clean
syringes more accessible through pharmacies, increase the number of
beds in local detox centers, and increase the length of stay for drug
treatment clients. District officials should also make good on their
promise to improve HIV testing practices, counseling and comprehensive
treatment for people in the D.C. jail.

As part of the national fight against AIDS, Congress should repeal the
national funding ban that prohibits cities from using their share of
federal AIDS prevention money on syringe exchange programs. According
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the
415,193 people reported to be living with AIDS in the United States at
the end of 2004, about 30 percent of cases were related to injection
drug use, either directly (sharing contaminated syringes) or
indirectly (having sex with someone who used a contaminated syringe or
being born to a mother who used a contaminated syringe).

The CDC, along with the American Medical Association and numerous
other scientific bodies, contends that syringe exchange programs are
highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV-AIDS and other
infectious diseases. Moreover, seven federal reports have found that
increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing
drug use.

As many as 300,000 Americans could contract HIV-AIDS or hepatitis C
over the next decade because of a lack of access to sterile syringes.
This essentially makes the national syringe ban a death sentence for
drug users, their partners and children. Members of Congress could
spare their lives by repealing the ban. The question is, will they?

Naomi Long -- Bill Piper


The writers are, respectively, director of the Washington office and
director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
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