Two years ago this week, after years of advocacy by public health and harm reduction advocates, the long-standing ban on federal funding for needle exchanges was repealed. On Saturday, it was restored as the Senate took the final votes to approve the 2012 federal omnibus spending bill.
A Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill including the ban on domestic use of federal funds for needle exchanges and a State Department bill including a ban on funding for needle exchange access in international programs both made it into the omnibus bill.
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. Eight federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.
Needle exchange supporters said 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 restoring 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 supported this ban have put the lives of their constituents in jeopardy."
They should pay a political price, Piper said. "We may have lost this battle, but we have just begun to fight," said Piper. "The Republicans who insisted on restoring the ban, and the Democrats who didn’t fight hard enough to oppose it, will be responsible for thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C. We will make sure Americans know which members of Congress care about their health and well-being and which do not."