Members of Congress Introduce Legislation Repealing National Syringe Ban; Follow-up to Last Year

Press Release July 29, 2008
Media Contact

Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Tony Newman at 646-335-5384

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) introduced bi-partisan legislation today to repeal a federal provision that prohibits states from using their share of federal HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchange programs, public health programs that prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. The legislation is a follow-up to a measure passed last year that repealed a federal provision preventing the nation’s capital from funding syringe exchange programs. Experts believe as many as 300,000 Americans could contract HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C over the next decade if the ban is not repealed and sterile syringes made widely available.

“By preventing sterile syringes from being made widely available the national syringe ban is a death sentence for drug users, their partners, and unborn babies,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Members of Congress could save hundreds of thousands of lives by passing this legislation. It’s that simple.”

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 found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.

Advocates point out that syringe exchange programs also save taxpayer money. The lifetime cost of treating just one person who contracts HIV/AIDS can be as high as $600,000. This cost is often borne by taxpayers. In contrast, syringe exchange programs can prevent thousands of new HIV/AIDS cases at very little cost.

Repealing the national syringe ban is supported by dozens of public health and civil rights groups, along with many religious denominations, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, United Church of Christ, and Union for Reform Judaism.

“With this legislation, members of Congress can save lives, reduce taxpayer expenses, and help people get into treatment,” said Piper. “And they have both scientists and clergy on their side.”

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

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