Congress on Verge of Restoring Federal Syringe Exchange Funding Ban as Part of 2012 Spending Package

Press Release December 14, 2011
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper 202-669-6430</p>

Last night House Republicans introduced the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, a compromise spending bill they say Republicans and Democrats negotiated behind closed doors (although Democrats say the bill doesn’t reflect final negotiations). As HIV/AIDS prevention and drug policy reform advocates had feared, the bill contains a provision restoring the federal syringe exchange funding ban. That ban, enacted in the 1980s and repealed in 2009, was largely responsible for hundreds of thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly from the sharing of used syringes. Advocates warn that restoring the ban will result in thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C or other infectious diseases next year alone.

"The federal syringe funding ban was costly in both human and fiscal terms – it is outrageous that Congress is trying to restore it given how overwhelming and clear the science is in support of making sterile syringes widely available," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Make no mistake about it – members of Congress who support this ban are putting the lives of their constituents in jeopardy."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Public Health Association, and numerous other scientific bodies have found that syringe exchange programs are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Increasing the availability of sterile syringes through exchange programs, pharmacies and other outlets also helps injection drug users obtain drug education and treatment. Eight federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.

A recent Washington, DC Department of Health Study concluded:

"From 2008 to 2010, the four DC programs exchanged nearly 800,000 needles, enrolled over 3,000 new clients, linked more than 900 persons into detox and drug treatment, and provided over 5,000 HIV tests. This study found that the top source of needles was needle exchange programs at 99% with 97% using the free needles. The results have been dramatic. There was a 60% decrease in the number of new HIV/AIDS cases attributable to injection drug use from 153 in 2007 – prior to the scale up of DC’s needle exchange programs to 62 in 2009. The Department is convinced that the expansion of needle exchange programs has resulted in this decrease in new HIV/AIDS cases."

By jumping the gun and introducing the bill appropriations bill early and against the wishes of Senate Democrats, House Republicans have created an opening whereby Democrats can call for further changes to the bill. Drug policy reform groups, HIV/AIDS prevention groups, hepatitis C prevention groups, and many others are calling on Congress to eliminate the ban from the bill.

"It is clear that Republicans have been playing with people’s lives by using the syringe exchange funding ban as leverage against Democrats in negotiations," said Piper. "People who use drugs and their loved ones are human beings, not chess pieces to be manipulated in political games. Members of Congress need to stand up for science and public health."

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

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