Pubdate: Wed, 12 Aug 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A20
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Congress Could End the Ban on Federal Funding of Needle Exchange 
Programs -- and Still Kill D.C.'s Vital Effort.

AFTER SECURING the right from Congress last year to use its own money 
to fund needle exchange programs last year, the District stands to 
lose it. Confusingly, the threat is wrapped up in legislation that 
ostensibly would lift a 21-year-old ban on using federal money to 
fund syringe-swapping groups. We say "ostensibly" because the 
restrictions on where those organizations could operate are so broad 
that they would effectively shut down the city's only program.

The House voted to end a 21-year-old ban and allow federal funding of 
needle exchange programs. It also voted to allow the District to use 
its own money for such a program. There's one catch: the programs 
cannot be located "within 1,000 feet of a public or private day care 
center, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, 
college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, 
park, playground, video arcade, or youth center, or an event 
sponsored by any such entity." This would render whole sections of 
cities off-limits. And it would effectively kill the District's one 
needle exchange program. None of this is a done deal. The Senate 
version of the bill doesn't have those onerous restrictions. When the 
House and Senate meet in conference committee to hash out the final 
legislation, this restrictive language must be removed.

Since the 1990s, studies have shown that needle exchange programs 
work. They are effective in reducing the spread of HIV while not 
increasing drug use. Just ask the learned people at the Centers for 
Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the American 
Medical Association and the World Health Organization. An 80 percent 
reduction in the incidence of HIV in intravenous drug users over the 
past 20 years can be attributed in part to needle exchange programs 
funded by localities and private organizations, according to a 2008 
report from the CDC.

Those still resistant to the facts should look at communities and 
urban areas grappling with the HIV/AIDS epidemic to understand the 
importance of making all possible funds available to effectively 
fight the epidemic. They need only look out of their Washington 
window. An astounding 3 percent of District residents are living with 
HIV/AIDS. Intravenous drug use is the third-most-common mode of 
transmission. "People have been playing politics with people's health 
. . . for years," D.C. Councilmember David A. Catania (I-At Large) 
told The Post. It's time for them to stop. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake