Budget Agreement Opens Door to Lifting Longtime Federal Ban on Funding for Syringe Access Programs

Press Release December 11, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Michael Collins 404-539-6437</p>

As Congress prepares to finalize the federal budget, more than 70 Maryland-based science and medical professionals released a letter today calling on Congress to lift the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs. The letter urges Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to use her position as Senate Appropriations Chair to lift the ban, noting that “there are few occasions when members of the medical community can unite and advocate for a public health program that costs nothing, saves taxpayer dollars, and saves lives. This is one of those occasions.”

In 2010, Congress overturned the decades-old syringe funding ban – fulfilling a commitment that Obama had made as a candidate – but just a year later, Congress re-instated the ban during budget negotiations without any public debate.

The letter is signed by a number of doctors, nurses, and professors from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC), and other prestigious institutions. The science and medical professionals note that the ban has been in place since 2011 and “has been detrimental to the health of Americans and the fight against HIV/AIDS ever since, especially those in your home state of Maryland. Lifting the ban would not involve the appropriation of a single additional federal dollar; the change would simply allow local and state medical authorities to spend federal dollars they are given as they see fit.”

The catalyst for the letter is the news that Congress reached a deal on a budget number for FY14. Such a deal would mean that Appropriations staffers will draft an omnibus bill to fund the government, and within this drafting process there is an opportunity to have the ban language removed.

The federal ban takes the form of language inserted into Appropriations legislation, and many advocating for lifting the ban have spoken of the importance of Senator Mikulski’s role.

“Having Senator Mikulski as Appropriations Chair is a real boost for those of us who want to lift the senseless syringe funding ban,” says Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs and a Maryland resident. “We know that the Senator is a champion of positive public health policies and supports lifting the ban. We want to make sure that, in the event of bicameral negotiations to fund the federal government, Senator Mikulski recognizes that this issue is a priority for her constituents, and pushes her counterparts in the House to remove this deeply damaging regulation.”

Restricting access to sterile syringes among people who inject drugs has been proven to lead to syringe sharing – a major cause of HIV infections. Clear evidence shows that allowing adults to access sterile syringes – through syringe exchange programs and non-prescription sales of syringes – prevents the transmission of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases, without contributing to increased drug use, drug injection, crime or unsafe discard of syringes. Such programs are also cost-effective. Syringe access programs are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

In countries where addiction is treated as a health issue, the fight against HIV/AIDS is being won. New HIV infections in countries such as Australia, Germany and Switzerland have been virtually eliminated among people who use drugs, just as mother-to-child HIV transmission has been eliminated in countries that make medicines for pregnant women accessible. In the United States, however, the federal government has resisted evidence-based HIV prevention strategies – costing us hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Congress re-instated a longstanding ban in 2011 that prohibits using federal funds for syringe access programs – a move that will cost thousands of more lives in years to come.

Read the full letter here.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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