Pubdate: Wed, 5 Aug 2009
Page: A20
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2009 The New York Times Company
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Nearly 600,000 Americans with AIDS have died since the beginning of 
the epidemic. Nearly a third of those cases can be traced to 
intravenous drug users who became infected with the virus that causes 
AIDS by sharing contaminated needles and who sometimes infect wives, 
lovers and unborn children. Many of the dead would never have been 
infected if Congress had allowed federal financing for programs that 
have been shown the world over to slow the spread of disease, without 
increasing drug use, by making clean needles available to addicts.

A state-financed version of the program has saved thousand of lives 
in New York City, which cut infection rates among addicts by about 80 
percent over several years by giving them clean needles and by 
working hard to get them into drug treatment programs. But by banning 
the use of federal dollars for these programs in 1988, in the very 
teeth of the epidemic, federal lawmakers discarded a powerful weapon 
in the fight against a deadly disease.

State and federal public health officials, who have long supported 
the programs, were hoping that the ban would be lifted this year. But 
a rider attached to two House appropriations bills would actually 
continue the ban -- in a tawdry, passive-aggressive way -- by barring 
federally financed programs from operating within 1,000 feet of 
colleges, universities, parks, video arcades, day-care centers, high 
schools, public swimming pools and other institutions.

This seems reasonable -- until you consider that such a restriction 
would make it virtually impossible to have federally financed 
programs anywhere in densely packed urban communities, which is where 
the need for AIDS intervention is especially pressing and 
institutions like schools and playgrounds are numerous. In other 
words, this would wipe out the program.

Worse still, a rider on the city budget for the District of Columbia, 
which is closely controlled by Congress, would place the same 
limitations on the use of even locally raised tax dollars. This would 
be an outrage in any case. But it is especially troubling because 
Washington is an AIDS hotspot, where impoverished communities have 
long been ravaged by the disease.

Needle-exchange programs would help these neighborhoods in many ways. 
First, they would provide safe, central locations where addicts could 
dispose of dirty syringes through the medical waste system instead of 
leaving them on the very streets and playgrounds that lawmakers claim 
to want to protect. Second, the programs often serve as a bridge to 
drug treatment for addicts who have had difficultly finding help for 

The riders, which have passed the House in two appropriations bills, 
are a clear threat to public health. They deserve to be stripped out 
in conference. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake