Alex Blaze

House, White House back end to federal needle exchange funding ban

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 16, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Barack Obama, budget, Congress, david obey, drug abuse, health care reform, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, House of Representatives, needle exchange

During the primaries, one of the policy differences between Obama and Clinton was that Obama supported an end to the federal ban on funding needle exchange programs. That's great; those programs have been proven to reduce HIV infection rates, and there's sound evidence that they get drug users into treatment programs and connect them with social services. The opposition is the standard conservative response to a program dealing even tangentially with drugs: this will subsidize drug abuse. There's no evidence that it increases drug abuse rates, but, hey, being conservative means not having to care about the facts.

Which is why it was upsetting on several levels to see it removed from the White House's website. Obama obviously knew that such programs were a net positive for America and the countries our foreign aid serves, but the political will to push for it was gone. It got worse when his proposed FY 2010 budget included the same language that was included since the Reagan Administration to maintain the ban.

Fortunately, Congress is acting on the issue. Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-WI) has removed the language from the House version of the budget. Just to see if this would pose a problem for the White House, I called them up and got this statement:

The President supports Chairman Obey's proposal to lift the federal ban on funding for needle exchange programs. The science clearly shows that such programs can reduce HIV infections.

So it all sounds like it's moving right along. If this does get repealed, kudos to Obey for being a voice of reason willing to stand up to War on Drugs rhetoric.

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For a moment there, I found myself looking for a "like" button and then realised I wasn't reading this on Facebook. Which is to say, this is great and I'm glad you posted it.

Sanity at last. Fingers crossed.

Thanks for posting this, Alex. If folks are interested in taking targeted action, the AIDS Action Council has an alert up on their site -- it's only for folks who are represented by members of the Appropriations Committee, which is why I say targeted. Check it out:

Dan ONeill | July 16, 2009 5:59 PM

Great Post Alex!

I'm currently working at AIDS Action this summer in DC, so I'm right in the thick of the debate.

Unfortunately, although the the ban to use federal funds for syringe exchange programs (SEPs) was lifted in the sub-committee, tomorrow Republicans will try to add language that makes it nearly impossible for SEPs to effectively operate in urban areas and receive these federal funds.

One possible version of the amendment would have Republicans say, "Okay - we'll allow states to use federal money to fund SEPs; however, no program operating within 1000 feet of places that children frequent (i.e. schools, parks, arcades, etc.) can receive such funds." Sounds nice in theory, but in reality, this would significantly obstruct existing programs' ability to qualify for funds (that they need now more than ever to sustain or expand operations).

This sneeky tactic by the Republicans is in the guise of a compromise that would likely make it through the full Appropriations committee and onto the House floor for a vote - where it may fall off many people's radar screens. This would be terrible and cannot happen. Otherwise, these proven effective and evidence-based programs will continue to be obstructed, causing far more Americans to be unnecessairly infected (directly or indirectly) by HIV and Hepatitis in the future.

I'd strongly encourage anyone with representatives on the Appropriations Committee to push them to prevent any restrictions on federal funding from being reincorporated and passed into the final version of the bill.

Oh yeah, it has also been shown that SEPs are far more cost-effective than paying for the healthcare expenses of countless Americans that would otherwise become infected with HIV, Hepatitis and numerous other bloodborne pathogens. I thought these fiscally responsible Republicans were all about cost containment. -Seems not. I'm confused! But as Alex rightly states, a lot of what they do isn't really concerned with science or the facts.

Anyway, here's a great summary piece from Trust for America's Health that does an excellent job of digesting what the science actually says on this topic:

It's high time we put an end to this ideollogically-based nonsense that has had profoundly negative implications for the health of Americans for far too long. Do what you can now to help; we're so close!