Americans believe that cities and states — and not the federal government — should decide whether federal HIV prevention funds can be spent on needle exchange programs, according to a recent Harris poll commissioned by the Lindesmith Center. The poll, which surveyed 1,003 American adults by telephone from October 15 through 19, found that 71% of American adults agree that current law should be changed so that decisions on how to use federal funding for HIV prevention programs be made by states and localities rather than the federal government. Currently, federal law bans the use of federal HIV prevention funding for needle exchange programs.
Numerous studies have concluded that needle exchange programs dramatically reduce the spread of HIV and do not encourage drug use. Needle exchange programs are supported by the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Public Health Association as well as other prestigious medical and public health organizations. In addition, the American Bar Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have urged the federal government to allow states and localities to use Federal HIV prevention funds to implement needle exchange programs.
“The U.S. is virtually alone among advanced, industrialized nations in prohibiting the funding of needle exchange programs,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Director of the Lindesmith Center. “Americans want crucial decisions about funding for needle exchange and other HIV prevention efforts made at the state or local level, not in Washington.”
This poll coincides with the release of the Lindesmith Center’s Syringe Availability, a concise and comprehensive review of data on needle exchange programs and pharmacy sale of syringes. Based in New York, the Lindesmith Center is a drug policy research institute that concentrates on broadening the drug policy debate.
The following pages include a summary of key findings, poll questions and contact information for further comment.
Louis Harris Poll on Needle Exchange
Summary of Key Findings
Across party lines, Americans believe state and local governments should be able to decide whether to use federal HIV prevention funds for needle exchange programs:
- 72% of Republicans, 70% of Democrats and 74% of Independents agree that states and cities should be allowed to make decisions concerning the funding of needle exchange programs.
Even those who oppose needle exchange believe current law should be changed:
- 69% of those who oppose needle exchanges agree that decisions on how to use federal HIV prevention funding should be made at the state and local level.
Few Americans are familiar with needle exchange programs:
- Only 45% of those surveyed said they were “somewhat familiar” or “very familiar” with needle exchange programs. 55% said they were “not very familiar” or “not familiar at all” with needle exchange programs.
Familiarity breeds support:
- 58% of Americans who claim to be familiar with needle exchange programs support such programs.
More Americans support needle exchange than oppose:
- When first asked if they favor or oppose needle exchange programs, 44% of those surveyed favored needle exchanges while 42% opposed.
- When informed of which organizations support such programs (the American Medical Association) and those who oppose (the Family Research Council), 50% of Americans support needle exchange programs while 45% oppose.
Compared to previous polls on needle exchange programs:
- Support for needle exchange programs was similar to that found in polls conducted annually from 1995 to 1997 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates (46-50% support needle exchange programs).
- A poll on HIV and AIDS commissioned by the Kaiser Foundation in 1996 found 66% of Americans support needle exchange programs.
- An April 1997 poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign and conducted by Tarrance Group and Lake Sosin Snell & Associates found 55% of Americans support needle exchange programs.
- The only poll conducted which has found opposition to needle exchange programs was commissioned in 1997 by the Family Research Council and found 62% in opposition to needle exchange. That poll, however, presented needle exchange programs and treatment as either/or choices.
Louis Harris Poll on Needle Exchange
Now I’d like to ask you about needle exchange programs which are intended to help reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS. How familiar are you with these programs which have been implemented in a number of cities across the country- very familiar, somewhat familiar, not very familiar, or not familiar at all?
Very familiar 9
Somewhat familiar 36
Not very familiar 31
Not familiar at all 24
Doesn’t know *
Please answer the following questions based on what you may have seen, read or heard about. Question 2:
Do you favor or oppose needle exchange programs?
Don’t know 13
Refused 1 Question 3:
The American Medical Association and other medical and public health organizations have endorsed needle exchange programs as an effective means of reducing the spread of HIV without encouraging drug use. Other organizations such as The Family Research Council oppose needle exchange programs believing that such programs encourage drug use and that they are not effective in helping to control the spread of HIV or AIDS. Based on this information, do you favor or oppose needle exchange programs?
Don’t Know 4
Refused 1 Question 4:
Currently, the Federal government provides states and localities with funding for a number of HIV prevention activities. However, these funds may not be used to support needle exchange programs. It has been proposed that current law should be changed so that decisions on how to use Federal funding
for HIV prevention programs be made by states and localities rather than the Federal government. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?
Don’t Know 3
For Further Comment:
American Medical Association
Lydia Steck, Director of Communications
American Bar Association
American Public Health Association
U.S. Conference of Mayors
American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR)
Dr. Arthur Ammann, President Brad Kalos, Director of Communications
212-682-7440, ext. 210
National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors
Joe Kelly, Julie Schofield or B.J. Harris
Dr. Peter Lurie
University of Michigan Institute for Social Research
Dr. David Vlahov Johns Hopkins
School of Hygiene & Public Health