Congress Ends 20-Year Ban on Syringe Exchange Funding
Posted Dec 14 2009 7:43am
Over the weekend, Congress passed an appropriations bill, including language that will end the 20-year ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs (SEPs). These programs are shown to effectively reduce new HIV infections among intravenous drug users, and to provide avenues to get otherwise hard to reach HIV-positive people into care.
AIDS Action Applauds Congress for Historic End to Twenty Year Ban on the Use of Federal Funds for Syringe Exchange
WASHINGTON, December 13, 2009 – The Senate, in a 57-35 vote on a six bill appropriations “minibus,” agreed to end the ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange. Additionally they agreed to allow Washington D.C. to use its own local funds for syringe exchange and to use federal funding under the same conditions as other jurisdictions. The House voted on the package on Thursday. Ending the ban on the use of federal funding for syringe exchange is a long overdue change advocated by the HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, public health and syringe exchange communities for nearly 20 years. Numerous scientific papers, including eight federal studies, show that syringe exchange reduces bloodborne disease including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, does not increase substance abuse and helps connect drug users to treatment for infectious disease and substance abuse. More than 8000 people in the U.S. are directly or indirectly infected by HIV and more than 12,000 people are infected with viral hepatitis through injection drug use each year.
The provision allows the distribution of syringes through syringe exchange as long as local public health or local law enforcement authorities do not object to a specific location as being inappropriate for distribution. The language regarding local authorities replaced a “1000 foot provision” which would have restricted syringe exchange within 1000 feet of schools, parks, day care centers, swimming pools, video arcades, and youth centers and which was ultimately not included in the final bill. AIDS Action applauded the change saying that implementation of the 1000 foot restriction would have been impossible.
“After 20 years of work, this historic vote finally signals that the United States now fully accepts the evidence of eight federal studies that syringe exchange reduces the incidence of HIV/AIDS and does not increase substance abuse,” said Rebecca Haag, AIDS Action’s Executive Director adding that she hoped the change in policy would send a signal to the world that syringe exchange was an important part of comprehensive HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis prevention policies. “AIDS Action calls on the President to sign and implement this legislation in the U.S. and to ensure that the State Department allows funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to go to syringe exchange in countries that need it. Tens of thousands of infections worldwide could be prevented by ensuring that people who inject drugs use only clean syringes,” she said.
The victory in the House was especially exciting since versions of the ban date back more than 20 years. AIDS Action’s records show the first version of the ban was enacted in the “Health Omnibus Programs Extension” was enacted in 1988. The funding ban found in the Labor-HHS and the Washington, DC appropriations bills back to 1990. AIDS Action and numerous other HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, syringe exchange, harm reduction, public health, religious and civil rights organizations have been working to end the ban ever since.
AIDS Action Council thanked the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, (D-NV) along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Additionally AIDS Action thanked Senate appropriators including Committee Chair Daniel Inouye (D-HA), Labor-HHS Subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Financial Services Subcommittee Chair Richard Durbin (D-IL) along with their House counterparts, Committee Chair David Obey (D-WI) and Financial Services Subcommittee Chair Jose Serrano (D-NY). AIDS Action Council also sent their thanks to the numerous Republican and Democratic Members of the House and Senate who worked or voted in support of the issue.
“Thanks to Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Pelosi, and the bipartisan support of Senators and Representatives throughout the U.S. Congress we will finally be able to use syringe exchange to lower the incidence of HIV and viral hepatitis in the communities most affected by injection drug use,” said Ronald Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of AIDS Action Council. “We send our thanks and gratitude to the hundreds if not thousands of people throughout the United States who have worked so hard for 20 years in this simple effort to get the U.S. to follow the science change the law in order to lower the rates of HIV,” he said.
The bill is likely to be signed by the President and enacted into law before December 18th, 2009.
AIDS Action Council strives to end the HIV epidemic by advancing public policies that prevent new infections, provide care for people living with HIV, and support the search for a cure. AIDS Action serves as the national voice for AIDS service organizations, health departments, and a diverse network of community-based organizations across the country that provide services for people living with or affected by HIV infection.