City Funding Reaches Needle-Exchange Programs in Washington, D.C.
Funding for needle-exchange programs in Washington, D.C., is beginning to reach groups that run the programs eight months after Congress lifted a ban of city funding for needle-exchange programs, but it is unclear how effective the increased funding will be at reducing the spread of HIV in the district, the AP/Washington Times reports (Westley, AP/Washington Times, 8/24). City officials in January announced that the district would invest in needle-exchange programs to help prevent the spread of HIV among injection drug users in the city. The announcement came after President Bush signed a fiscal year 2008 omnibus spending bill (HR 2764) that effectively lifted a ban on city funding for needle-exchange programs in the district. Since 1999, the district had been the only U.S. city barred by federal law from using local funds for needle-exchange programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/25).
According to the AP/Times, the district is allocating $700,000 annually for needle-exchange programs. The district has allocated $300,000 over three years, the largest share of funding, to the needle-exchange program PreventionWorks!. Needle-exchange programs aimed at commercial sex workers and homeless people also have received district funding, the AP/Times reports. According to a report released last year by the district's HIV/AIDS Administration, injection drug use is the second most common mode of HIV transmission in the city, following unprotected sex. There are about 10,000 IDUs living in the district, the AP/Times reports. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has criticized needle-exchange programs, arguing that such programs increase spread of HIV because they do not curb risky behaviors associated with needle-sharing.
According to the AP/Times, the district has the highest HIV prevalence in the country, with one in 20 residents estimated to be living with HIV. Walter Smith, director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said, "There are multiple factors that have produced [the district's] high HIV/AIDS rate, and it will take multiple factors to bring it down." He added that there is "no silver bullet" to reduce the spread of the disease (AP/Washington Times, 8/24).