<p>Tony Newman 646-335-5384<br />
Bill Piper 202-669-6430</p>
Last night the Indiana legislature passed life-saving legislation allowing counties to establish syringe programs to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently determined that HIV infection rates have soared in Indiana on account of the sharing of syringes used for the injection of heroin and other drugs. The new law comes in the wake of Kentucky also legalizing syringe exchange programs.
“Conservative, rural states adopting syringe programs is a game-changer,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “There’s an opportunity here for the U.S. to join the rest of the developed world in making sterile syringes widely available to stamp out deadly diseases.”
Decades of research in the U.S and from around the world has concluded that syringe access programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. By preventing people from contracting infectious diseases that can be expensive to treat, syringe programs also save money by reducing healthcare expenditures. A sterile syringe can cost as little as a nickel; treating someone with HIV/AIDS can cost taxpayers more than one million dollars.
In the U.S., injection drug use has accounted for more than one-third (36 percent) of AIDS cases – more than 354,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet the U.S. bans federal funding for sterile syringe access programs, even though the CDC has found that such programs lower incidence of HIV/AIDS among people who inject drugs by 80 percent.
This refusal to adopt an evidence-based prevention strategy has cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. 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.
Last year, more than 140 local, national and international organizations released a letter calling on Congress to end the archaic federal funding ban on syringe programs. The ban was put in place in 1988, repealed in 2009, and reinstated by Congress in 2011. The signatories include over 80 prominent organizations from 26 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, in addition to dozens of national and international organizations.
Advocates say Governor Pence should work with his former Republican colleagues in Congress to repeal the syringe-funding ban.
“As a native Hoosier whose uncle died of Hepatitis C – which he likely contracted from injection drug use – I take syringe access very personally,” Piper said. “Governor Pence should talk to his former colleagues in Congress and get them to repeal the federal funding ban so states can use their share of prevention resources on effective syringe programs.”