Rep. Tiahrt (R-Kan.) Continues to Make Uninformed Statements that Discount the Proven Effectiveness of Needle Exchange Programs

Press Release June 5, 2007
Media Contact

Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430 or Naomi Long at (202)669-6071

Despite Washington, D.C. having one of the worst HIV infection rates in the country, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) continues to ignore the mountain of scientific evidence backing the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs at reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. Tiahrt’s stubborn refusal to recognize the numerous scientific studies proving the efficacy of syringe exchange programs is part of an attempt to sabotage a recent Congressional effort to remove the ban on funding syringe exchange programs in Washington, D.C.

A strong editorial in today’s Washington Post called for D.C. to be allowed to fund needle exchange programs. In the editorial, Tiahrt is quoted claiming “…;needle exchange programs have been proven in many studies to be ineffective and a threat to the surrounding community, especially the children.”

In response, the Drug Policy Alliance will hand deliver to Tiahrt’s office today numerous studies proving the effectiveness of needle exchange programs.

“Rep. Tiahrt’s claims that syringe exchange programs don’t work is similar to claiming the world is flat,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We want him to have the information so he doesn’t continue to embarrass himself and, more importantly, sabotage this life-saving measure.”

Every established medical, scientific and legal body to study the issue concurs on the efficacy of improved access to sterile syringes for reducing the spread of infectious diseases, including the National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the AIDS Advisory Commissions of both President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton. Eight government reports conclude that access to sterile syringes decreases the transmission of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. No reports contradict these findings.

On Tuesday, June 5, Congress moved one step closer to lifting the funding ban on syringe exchange programs in Washington, D.C. The House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government removed the ban from an appropriations bill that includes the city’s spending plan.

In 1998, Tiahrt and the Republican-led Congress barred the D.C. government from spending its own local funds on syringe exchange programs. The ban was reauthorized in the appropriations bill every year since. But with Democrats now in power, the push to lift the ban gained traction. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the committee, spearheaded the effort to lift the ban.

In Washington, D.C., injecting drugs is the second-most common means of contracting HIV among men–and the most common means among women. Approximately one-third of new AIDS cases annually are the result of intravenous drug use. It has been long established by the scientific community that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst people who inject drugs without increasing drug use. D.C.’s syringe exchange program is also crucial to getting people with substance abuse problems into drug treatment. The program estimates it refers about 50 people a month to treatment. Needle exchange programs help public health professionals assess the medical needs of clients, gain trust in the community by meeting clients in their own surroundings, and provide educational materials and referrals.

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

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