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An End to Ideology Over Science: New Approaches to Lifting the Ban on Federal Funding of Syringe Exchange

The Harm Reduction Coalition in partnership with CHAMP (Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project), The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center and TAG (Treatment Action Group) are co-sponsoring this event. Syringe exchange is one of the most validated methods for preventing HIV. And as volumes of research so clearly demonstrate, it can also provide a bridge to health care, drug treatment and other services for people who are stigmatized and marginalized. But due to the efforts of Senator Jesse Helms and his allies twenty years ago, Federal funds cannot be used for syringe exchange programs – and the ban remains in effect up to the present day. Why are we still stuck with this ban, and who can lift it? Could this happen readily under a new administration or will it remain an uphill battle? How are advocates across the country escalating their efforts to triumph after years of willful ignorance and distortion? Last year the House of Representatives finally allowed local government funds to be used for syringe exchange in Washington, DC. This is a positive step forward, but many people would like to see needle exchange funded at the federal level. The panel, moderated by James Learned of CHAMP, consists of Paola Barahona, Physicians for Human Rights (formerly of PreventionWorks!), Louie Jones from VOCAL (Voices of Community Advocates and Leaders), and Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition. They will be discussing the insights gleaned from the D.C. victory and ways to roll back this nationwide injustice once and for all. For more information see http://www.harmreduction.org/article.php?id=733, or to be added as a co-sponsor, please contact James at jlearned@champnetwork.org or call (212) 937-7955 x 60.
Date: 
Wed, 03/12/2008 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: 
208 West 13th Street (Between 7th & 8th Avenues)
New York, NY
United States

Religious Leaders Urge Congress to Expand Access to Clean Needles for Drug Users

Recently Congress lifted a ban on local funding for needle exchange in the District of Columbia. Now scholars and spokespersons from a variety of denominations will converge in the nation’s capital to urge Congress to help save lives by repealing the national ban that prohibits states from using their share of federal HIV/AIDS prevention money on needle exchange programs. They will explain their position and be available for questions from the media. The scientific evidence is irrefutable that needle exchange saves lives without increasing drug use. But many politicians say that it’s still “just wrong” to provide clean needles to drug users. It’s time for moral clarification. Please join the following people at this important event: * Mary Jo Iozzio, Ph.D., serves on the executive board of the Society of Christian Ethics -- comprised of nearly 1,000 ethics professors -- which adopted a resolution in 2000 to "encourage the development of needle exchange programs.” Dr. Iozzio is a professor of Moral Theology at Barry University in Florida and an active member of the Catholic Theological Society of America. * William Martin, M.Div., Ph.D., is a senior fellow for Religion and Public Policy at the James Baker Institute at Rice University and a member of the Covenant Baptist Church in Houston. Dr. Martin wrote the authoritative biography of the Rev. Billy Graham. * John B. Johnson represents the Episcopal Church as a Domestic Policy Analyst in the denomination’s Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C. * Rev. Michael T. Bell, D.Min., is an African-American minister serving as the senior pastor at Peace Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. *Charles Thomas is the executive director of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative (IDPI), a national organization of clergy and other people of faith advocating for compassionate policies to reduce the problems associated with drugs. Thomas will provide details about the positions of other denominations supporting needle exchange, including the Union for Reform Judaism; Presbyterian Church USA; United Church of Christ; and Unitarian Universalist Association. * Naomi Long represents the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's largest organization advocating for drug policies grounded in reason, compassion and justice, and is a member of the executive board of Prevention Works, Washington, D.C.’s local needle exchange program. All of the speakers will also be available for subsequent phone interviews, which can be arranged by e-mailing CharlesThomas@idpi.us or calling 301-938-1577.
Date: 
Mon, 03/03/2008 - 2:00pm
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Media Advisory: Religious Leaders to Urge Congress to Expand Access to Clean Needles for Drug Users

Media Advisory: February 29, 2008 CONTACT: Bill Piper, Drug Policy Alliance at 202-669-6430 or Charles Thomas, Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative at 301-938-1577 Religious Leaders to Urge Congress to Expand Access to Clean Needles for Drug Users Preserving Life is a Moral Imperative; Congress Should Allow States to Use Federal Funding for Needle Exchange Programs WHEN: Monday, March 3, at 2:00 p.m. WHERE: U.S. Capitol Building, room HC-6 Capitol (House side), Washington, D.C. WHAT: Recently Congress lifted a ban on local funding for needle exchange in the District of Columbia. Now scholars and spokespersons from a variety of denominations will converge in the nation’s capital to urge Congress to help save lives by repealing the national ban that prohibits states from using their share of federal HIV/AIDS prevention money on needle exchange programs. They will explain their position and be available for questions from the media. WHY: The scientific evidence is irrefutable that needle exchange saves lives without increasing drug use. But many politicians say that it’s still “just wrong” to provide clean needles to drug users. It’s time for moral clarification. WHO: * Mary Jo Iozzio, Ph.D., serves on the executive board of the Society of Christian Ethics -- comprised of nearly 1,000 ethics professors -- which adopted a resolution in 2000 to "encourage the development of needle exchange programs.” Dr. Iozzio is a professor of Moral Theology at Barry University in Florida and an active member of the Catholic Theological Society of America. * William Martin, M.Div., Ph.D., is a senior fellow for Religion and Public Policy at the James Baker Institute at Rice University and a member of the Covenant Baptist Church in Houston. Dr. Martin wrote the authoritative biography of the Rev. Billy Graham. * John B. Johnson represents the Episcopal Church as a Domestic Policy Analyst in the denomination’s Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C. * Rev. Michael T. Bell, D.Min., is an African-American minister serving as the senior pastor at Peace Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. *Charles Thomas is the executive director of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative (IDPI), a national organization of clergy and other people of faith advocating for compassionate policies to reduce the problems associated with drugs. Thomas will provide details about the positions of other denominations supporting needle exchange, including the Union for Reform Judaism; Presbyterian Church USA; United Church of Christ; and Unitarian Universalist Association. * Naomi Long represents the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's largest organization advocating for drug policies grounded in reason, compassion and justice, and is a member of the executive board of Prevention Works, Washington, D.C.’s local needle exchange program. All of the speakers will also be available for subsequent phone interviews, which can be arranged by e-mailing CharlesThomas@idpi.us or calling 301-938-1577.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Capitol Hill Reception Celebrating the Lifting of the DC Syringe Exchange Funding Ban

Please join Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and friends for a special Capitol Hill reception to celebrate the lifting of the DC syringe exchange funding ban and thank the policymakers and advocates who made this victory possible. The official program begins promptly at 5:30 p.m. Hors d'oeuvres and beverages will be provided. Please RSVP by February 11 to Christy at dclegalintern@aidsaction.org.
Date: 
Wed, 02/13/2008 - 5:00pm - 7:00pm
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Harm Reduction: San Antonio Police Arrest Needle Exchangers, DA Ups the Ante

Bill Day, 73, and the Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition have been doing unsanctioned needle exchanges in poor San Antonio neighborhoods for years, but this week, Day and two of the group's board members were arrested on drug paraphernalia possession charges as they handed out clean syringes. Now, the San Antonio Express-News reports, to add insult to injury, District Attorney Susan Reed has upped the charges from possession to distribution of paraphernalia, exposing Day and his comrades to a year in jail, as opposed to the maximum $500 fine for possession.

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popular syringe exchange logo
Day and the coalition are fighting back. They have assembled a legal team that includes high-profile criminal defense attorney Gerald Goldstein and pro bono assistance from the prestigious Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld law firm.

"These are enormously decent, charitable people, and what's happening with them smacks of persecution," said Neel Lane, an attorney with Akin Gump who has filed a brief with the state attorney general's office on the group's behalf.

Last year, the Texas legislature passed a bill authorizing health officials to set up a pilot needle exchange program in Bexar County, which would be the first legal needle exchange in the Lone Star State. But DA Reed has stalled the program, declaring that the legislation authorizing it is faulty. An opinion from the state attorney general is pending.

In fact, Reed has been trying to derail the program since it was approved last summer. Last August, she told the Express-News that state drug laws trump the needle exchange legislation, a minority position even among prosecutors. She warned local health officials the law would not protect them.

"I'm telling them, and I'm telling the police chief, I don't think they have any kind of criminal immunity," Reed said. "That's the bottom line. It has nothing to do with whether they do it or don't do it -- other than if you do it you might find yourself in jail."

Reed opposed the needle exchange program, but by forcing the issue, she may have inadvertently contributed to resolving the program's legality once and for all.

A special thanks to Texas criminal justice blogger Scott Henson and his Grits for Breakfast blog for a heads-up on this one.

Harm Reduction: DC Quick to Move After Congress Lifts Needle Exchange Funding Ban

Officials from the District of Columbia announced Wednesday that the District government will invest $650,000 in needle exchange programs. The move comes less than two weeks after Congress passed an appropriations bill relaxing a decade-old ban on the District using even its money to fund such programs.

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PreventionWorks at work (screen shot from recent nytimes.com '''slide show,'' June '07)
Mayor Adrian Fenty and several city council members made the announcement at a press conference at the headquarters of PreventionWorks!, a DC needle exchange program that had heretofore existed on only private funding. Now, it will get $300,000 in city funds. Public funding for needle exchange would help reduce the number of new HIV infections in the city, they said.

"This program goes to best practices to combat one of our greatest health problems," Fenty said at the news conference. Given the high prevalence of HIV in the District, "everyone should be concerned," he said. "HIV and AIDS are such well-known public health problems in the District of Columbia that people understand we have to have programs and services in the neighborhoods," the mayor said.

The rest of the $650,000 will go to fund additional needle exchange programs throughout the city, he said.

It is money well spent, said DC Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Health. "The cost of infection is immeasurably higher in terms of dollars and lives," he said.

If You Oppose Harm Reduction, You Support AIDS and Death

The Drug Czar's blog has been very concerned about harm reduction lately. They've taken the counterintuitive position of opposing efforts to save the lives of drug users, which seems like a strange choice. Now I understand why: they think harm reduction is the opposite of what it actually is.
These so-called "harm reduction" strategies are poor public policy because their underlying philosophy involves giving up on those who can successfully recover from drug addiction. [PushingBack.com]
This is wrong for a very simple reason: you cannot recover from addiction if you're dead. Harm reduction programs are not an alternative to treatment, rather they go hand in hand. Harm reduction keeps people healthy and alive, thereby creating opportunities for them to subsequently recover from addiction.

We could do nothing. That would be "giving up." We could ask drug addicts to either quit or die. That would be "giving up." Instead, harm reduction activists have taken to the streets and attacked this problem directly. They've studied the leading causes of death among drug users and created programs to reduce those casualties. That's the opposite of giving up.

Just pretend for a moment that you're cruel and you want drug users to die in large numbers. How would you go about it? Well, you would begin by eliminating regulated distribution so that users are forced to obtain unsafe products from criminals on the street. You would reduce access to clean needles in order to spread AIDS. You would enforce criminal sanctions against users so that they're afraid to seek help. And you would lobby aggressively against anyone who's studied the problem and proposed programs to reduce AIDS and overdoses.

Now I'm not saying the Drug Czar wants to kill people. I'm just saying he presides over a policy that is perfectly tailored to achieve that outcome. And he dares to suggest that the people out there working with addicts and saving lives are the ones who've given up.
Location: 
United States

Press Release: PreventionWorks! Selects New Executive Director To Advance Agency As A HIV Continuum Of Care Service Provider

[Courtesy of PreventionWorks!] NEWS RELEASE: November 20, 2007 CONTACT: Beth Beck: beth.beck@cancer.org, (202) 253-0397 PreventionWorks! Selects New Executive Director To Advance Agency As A HIV Continuum Of Care Service Provider November 20, 2007 – Washington, DC – PreventionWorks!, a non-profit community-based organization committed to addressing HIV/AIDS and related health issues among drug users, their families, friends and partners, announced today the appointment of its new Executive Director. Ken Vail, MPH, MA, has been selected to lead the agency, as it prepares to expand and enhance service delivery to the District’s most vulnerable populations. The appointment of Mr. Vail is the result of an official search that began after Paola Barahona, Founding Executive Director, announced her departure in August of this year. "After an exhaustive and detailed search, that included the efforts of an executive search firm, it became clear to the Board of Directors that we already had the best candidate for the job", said Beth Beck, Board President, Prevention Works!. “As the search moved forward, it was evident to the Board that Mr. Vail’s knowledge, skills, experience, and vision were directly in line with the growth the agency is experiencing in response to the continually shifting HIV/AIDS epidemic and we are very excited to have him aboard.” Mr. Vail was most recently the Interim Executive Director for PreventionWorks! and took over the operations of the agency in August. Before coming to PreventionWorks! he was the Director of Prevention for Community Health Action of Staten Island. Mr. Vail has more than 17 years of experience in the fields of public health, medical anthropology and direct service provision. He has a strong background in non-profit program planning and management, staff development, grant writing and program evaluation. Mr. Vail also has extensive experience as an HIV prevention educator and is an expert in the theory and practice of harm reduction. “I am very excited and humbled to become the next Executive Director for PreventionWorks!” said Vail. “I have worked my whole life to serve populations most impacted by HIV disease and illness and I look forward to working with staff, volunteers, clients, and the Board of Directors to move the agency forward.” “As Executive Director, my initial focus will be to strengthen the organizational infrastructure to effectively position the agency as a comprehensive continuum of care service provider to best improve the health of DC’s drug using populations and most vulnerable residents.” Transition Guides, an executive firm specializing in non-profit agencies, and the Board of Directors at PreventionWorks, conducted the search for the executive director position.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Harm Reduction: New Jersey's First Legal Needle Exchange Is Open

The needle exchange program bill passed nearly a year ago by the New Jersey state legislature has borne its first fruit. A needle exchange program operated by the South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City began operations Tuesday.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/nline.gif
popular syringe exchange logo
Under the New Jersey law, up to a half-dozen municipalities can apply to operate needle exchange programs. Atlantic City has long clamored for such a program and is the first off the mark, but preparations for similar programs are underway in Camden, Newark, and Paterson.

Needle exchange programs are a proven means of reducing the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

According to a report from the Drug Policy Alliance's New Jersey head Roseanne Scotti, who was instrumental in guiding the legislation to passage, 20 people registered for the Atlantic City program on its first day of operation. The program runs out of the South Jersey AIDS Alliance drop-in center and is currently limited to four hours a day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The city plans to take the exchange program mobile, but it still working on gathering the money to pay for a van.

Needle Exchange Action May Be Imminent

Last spring at the National African American Drug Policy Coalition summit here in Washington, the question was asked of Donna Christian-Christensen (Congressional Delegate from Guam, the closest thing the territories have to US Representatives), a physician and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Health Braintrust, what the prospects were for repealing the ban on use of federal AIDS grant funds to support needle exchange. Her answer was, "We're going to give it a good try." I took that to mean "it's not going to happen this time." The issue has made some progress however, at least as it affects us here in the District of Columbia, where a particularly infamous part of the annual appropriations bill prevents DC from spending even its own locally-collected tax funds on needle exchange appears to be on its way to getting repealed, thanks to positive action by a House subcommittee that drafted the new appropriations bill. I know better than to take it as a given that repeal will make it all the way through. But it is looking pretty good, and at the PreventionWorks! anniversary party this evening -- attended by new PW executive director Ken Vail -- AIDS Action lobbyist Bill McColl informed the crowd that it could hit the floor within a few days. Earlier this year we reported that Hillary Clinton was noncommittal about lifting the ban during a videotaped exchange at a private forum with prominent AIDS activists. The exchange was fascinating; after several pointed back-and-forths with Housing Works executive director Charles King, Sen. Clinton directly acknowledged that it was political concerns only that accounted for her position (though the kinds of concerns that can't necessarily be dismissed offhand). Sen. Obama, by contrast, had stated his support for lifting the ban. This week Clinton took the plunge and made strong pro-needle exchange promises in a campaign statement on AIDS funding. What would ultimately happen with this in a Clinton presidency, or any Democratic presidency, is probably hard to predict -- politics is still politics. But the fact that the Democratic candidates are lining up to support the issue has McColl feeling cautiously optimistic that the Democratic Congress won't drop the ball on the DC language at least. And it's encouraging for all of us about the long-term. The federal needle exchange restriction came to a boil during the Clinton administration, when the findings needed to lift the ban -- needle exchange doesn't increase drug use, but does reduce the spread of HIV -- were made by the administration, but not acted on. Some advocates believe that if Donna Shalala had been on a certain Air Force One flight, instead of Barry McCaffrey, that it would have happened. It took a change in Congress to even get the issue back onto the radar screen; more may be needed to actually get the law changed. Still, let's keep our fingers crossed for the DC ban to be lifted, maybe even by the end of the year. Assuming that happens: Let's Do Heroin! (That was sarcasm, in case anyone didn't realize.)
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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