Washington, D.C., To Invest $650,000 in Needle-Exchange Programs
Washington, D.C., plans to invest $650,000 in needle-exchange programs to help prevent the spread of HIV among injection drug users in the city, officials announced Wednesday, the Washington Post reports (Nakamura, Washington Post, 1/3). The announcement comes after President Bush last week signed a $555 billion fiscal year 2008 omnibus spending bill (HR 2764) that effectively lifts a ban on city funding for needle-exchange programs in the district. Since 1999, the district has been the only U.S. city barred by federal law from using local funds for needle-exchange programs. A report released in November by district health officials found that injection drug use was the second most common cause of HIV transmission in the city (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/2).
"This program goes to best practices to combat one of our greatest health problems," district Mayor Adrian Fenty said at a news conference at the headquarters of PreventionWorks!, which operates the district's only needle-exchange program. PreventionWorks! will receive a $300,000 city grant, and the remaining $350,000 will go toward creating new needle-exchange programs, Fenty said. Ken Vail of PreventionWorks! said that the organization serves about 2,000 people at 12 locations in the city and that it exchanged 200,000 needles last year.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) in a statement said, "The district's AIDS rate is artificially elevated" because of the former funding ban, adding, "Now we have a lot of catching up to do." Council member David Catania, chair of the Committee on Health, said the public investment will be cost-effective in the long term if the exchange programs are successful. "The cost of infection is immeasurably higher [then needle-exchange programs] in terms of dollars and lives," he added. Shannon Hader, head of the district's HIV/AIDS Administration, said she expects the city to establish a variety of new needle-exchange programs, such as mobile clinics, outreach initiatives and fixed-site programs. Fenty said everyone should "be concerned" about HIV/AIDS when asked how he would respond to residents who might object to having needle-exchange programs in their neighborhoods (Washington Post, 1/3). "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," he added (AP/International Herald Tribune, 1/3).