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HRC Alert: Getting Congress Hip to Hep in May

[Courtesy of Harm Reduction Coalition] 

Dear Supporter,

Take Action to Repeal the Federal Ban on Syringe Exchange, Increase Hepatitis Prevention

Momentum is building to end the 20 year ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs, but now we need heat. HRC has initiated a campaign designed to build the pressure in Washington DC and provide an opportunity for syringe exchange advocates to work for what we believe in. Keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to a reform delegation, "Okay, you've convinced me.  Now go on out and bring pressure on me!"  Action comes from keeping the heat on.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1. Organize a district-level meeting - Call up your US Representative's local office and arrange a meeting in May to talk to them about syringe exchange and the need to lift the federal ban. Download talking points, materials to leave behind, and ask them to take a stand and co-sign a 'Dear Colleague' letter from members of Congress to House leadership.

2. Send a Letter to the Editor - May 19 is World Hepatitis Awareness Day! Submit an op-ed or a letter to the editor this week to bring attention to the end for syringe exchange expansion through ending the federal ban. For addesses , please click here. Be sure to also send it to your Congressional representatives.

3. Demystify! Impress! Hold accountable! If you work at a syringe exchange program, consider inviting your US Congressperson &/or their staff to your site. Show 'em how much you do on how little funding.  Tell them what you would do with sufficient funding.

4. Let us know what you hear back - Email hrcwest@harmreduction.org and keep us in touch.

Harm Reduction: San Antonio Needle Exchange Program Not To Be, Texas Attorney General Says Would Violate State Law

A state-sanctioned needle exchange program envisioned for Bexar County (greater San Antonio) under legislation passed last year will not happen -- at least not this year. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Monday issued an opinion saying that state drug laws blocked the program from moving forward.

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popular syringe exchange logo
The needle exchange program was envisioned to help slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C among injection drugs users and would have been the first official program in Texas, which is the only state in the nation without one. The law was scheduled to take effect last September, but was put on hold after Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed raised objections in August, saying that it would be illegal to conduct such a program because, in her opinion, the law was defective. That sparked State Senator Jeff Wentworth's request for an attorney general's opinion.

In addition to blocking the needle exchange program, the attorney general's opinion also opens the way to the vindictive prosecution of Bill Day, a 73-year-old AIDS sufferer who was ticketed along with two other people earlier this year for passing out clean needles. District Attorney Reed, a Republican who has warned she would arrest anyone trying to hand out needles, stayed Day's case pending Abbott's opinion, but is now likely to move forward with it.

While Day faces up to a year in jail if convicted of violating Texas drug paraphernalia laws, that's unlikely, First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg told the Dallas Morning News. "Nobody expects that Mr. Day will go to jail," said Herberg. "If people think that he's well-intentioned, that's a punishment issue, not a guilt or innocence issue."

In his opinion, Abbott wrote the law passed last year was not written clearly enough to protect needle exchange participants from prosecution because it said only that the county health department "may" set up a needle exchange, not that it "will" set one up. While the legislature may have intended to set up a program, it needs to redraft the law to fix the language, he said.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio), the legislation's main sponsor, vowed to make fixing it one of her top priorities next year. "Obviously, I am terribly disappointed," she told the Morning News. "The outcome [with the needle exchange] would have been much more effective in saving thousands of lives and saving millions of taxpayer dollars at the same time."

Harm Reduction: More Than 300,000 HIV/AIDS Cases Linked to Injection Drug Use

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 300,000 people have been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus through injection drug use. That is roughly 30% of all the slightly more than one million cases reported in the US since the disease first appeared on the radar in the early 1980s. The figures are contained in Table 3 of the CDC's latest HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, covering cases through 2006.

According to the report, more than 170,000 men and nearly 75,000 women contracted the virus through sharing dirty needles. Another 68,000 men contracted the virus through a combination of injection drug use and male-to-male sexual contact.

If there is any good news on the HIV/AIDS drug injection front, it is that the percentage of new cases linked to injection drug use appears to be dropping. While over the history of the epidemic, roughly 30% of all cases are linked to needle-sharing, in 2006 that number was only 17%.

Still, that means that more than 3,000 men and more than 1,700 women contracted the virus in 2006 through injection drug use. Nearly 1,200 more men contracted the virus through a combination of needle-sharing and male-to-male sex.

Needle exchange and other programs designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS currently operate in around 200 US localities, but despite their proven record in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, they continue to face hostility in some communities and from some state and local officials. Under an amendment offered by then Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), the federal government is prohibited from spending federal funds on needle exchange programs. Both remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton (NY) and Barack Obama (IL), have called for an end to that ban.

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

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