(The following statement from Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), sponsor of 2009 legislation that repealed the ban on federal funding of syringe exchange, was distributed on email lists that we monitor. It expresses his thoughts regarding the ban's reinstatement in Congressional legislation this week.)
Dear friends and allies:
We had a large setback on our goal of allowing life-saving syringe exchange programs to operate freely and with full funding from all levels of government without restrictions. The FY2012 funding package that was passed today contained multiple policy riders that expressly prohibit federal funding for syringe exchange programs. We were able to preserve DC’s right to carry out syringe exchange with their local funding, which is very important and would have been a tremendous blow to have lost. But the overall picture remains bleak with regard to federal funding.
We had so much success in recent years as we first removed the ban on DC conducting syringe exchange, and then the full federal ban. As I said at those moments, we were only able to achieve these long-overdue policy changes because of the years of advocacy, education, organizing and hard work that you all carried out. Now we’ve taken a step backwards, and will have to begin some of that work all over again.
Like you, I feel frustrated at moving backwards. But also like you, I know that we have the power of facts, science and experience on our side in this debate. We will have to begin to re-engage and re-start our push to educate those who don’t understand the lifesaving power of syringe exchange programs.
I look forward to continuing to work with you on this vital issue. We cannot rest it seems until we’ve ended all prohibitions on syringe exchange and also ended the debate on it for good. Too many lives are at stake: We must continue this fight.
José E. Serrano