Washington, D.C., Needle-Exchange Programs Could Receive Funds by October if Appropriations Bill Becomes Law, Health Official Says
Washington, D.C., needle-exchange programs could receive funds as early as October if a $21 billion appropriations bill that would lift a ban on city funding for the programs becomes law, district Health Department Director Gregg Pane said recently, the Washington Post reports (Alexander, Washington Post, 7/1).
The House last week passed the appropriations bill. The House Appropriations Committee late last month approved the bill after the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government voted to remove language that prevents the district from financing the programs. The ban was first imposed under a federal law signed by former President Clinton in 1998 that prohibits the district government from using local tax money to fund any organization that operates a needle-exchange program. The House has added the ban each year to the district's appropriations bill.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), chair of the subcommittee, said he would make it a priority to push for removal of the language. District Mayor Adrian Fenty has said that he will provide funds for needle-exchange programs as soon as Congress removes the language.
Injection drug use is the second most common mode of HIV transmission among men in the district and the most common mode among women in the city. Prevention Works!, the district's only needle-exchange program, is financed through private donations and reaches about one-third of the estimated 9,700 injection drug users in the city. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass with some revisions (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/29).
According to Pane, the health department will commit $1 million next year to support needle-exchange programs, HIV testing and counseling for injection drug users if the bill becomes law. The city also will allocate $250,000 to Prevention Works! and support other programs, including some run by the health department, that would offer needle exchanges and drug counseling, Pane said. "This isn't just giving away needles," Pane said, adding, "It's a chance to interact with people. To do HIV and hepatitis testing and make the appropriate referrals to detox."
Prevention Works! Executive Director Paola Barahona said that if the organization is given the funds, the program would expand HIV testing and counseling services and increase the number of support workers (Washington Post, 7/1).
The district's ban on the use of local funds for needle-exchange programs was the "most harmful" of the various provisions that "cluttered the appropriations bill," a Post editorial says. According to the editorial, such programs "greatly reduce the risk of contracting or spreading HIV" among IDUs, and "they put users in contact with workers who could steer them into drug treatment." The provision that would allow the district the "power to use its own money to help fight a fatal disease ravaging its population should remain untouched," the editorial concludes (Washington Post, 7/2).