HIV/AIDS Advocates Express Concern About Obama’s Continuation of Needle-Exchange Funding Ban
Although President Obama previously has expressed support for needle-exchange programs as part of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, advocates recently expressed concern that the administration's 2009-2010 budget proposal intends to continue a funding ban for such programs that dates back to the 1980s, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Jeffrey Crowley, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, on Friday released a statement saying that the Obama administration "is committed to moving forward to address the federal ban on syringe-exchange programs as a part of a national HIV/AIDS strategy." However, Crowley did not provide an explanation for why the budget continued the funding prohibition for such programs.
According to the Chronicle, Obama's approach to funding needle exchanges "may reflect the political controversy" over such programs, which opponents claim promote illegal drug use. Advocates of the programs assert that research supports their claim that needle exchanges are an effective means of preventing HIV/AIDS and other diseases among injection drug users. Laura Thomas, head of the Drug Policy Alliance Network in San Francisco, said it is "ridiculous that at this point in the epidemic, we're not looking to science in determining what we're funding." She added that state, local and private funding for needle-exchange programs do not provide sufficient resources to reach all IDUs. "Without the federal funding, we're missing people that we could reach," Thomas said. According to Paola Barahona of Physicians for Human Rights, supporters of needle-exchange programs "hoped that the president would seize the first opportunity for lifting federal restrictions." Barahona added, "Denying people at risk for HIV a proven prevention intervention is a denial of their basic human rights."
Soon after Obama took office, the White House Web site featured a statement asserting that the president "supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates" of HIV/AIDS and other illnesses among IDUs, the Chronicle reports. Although this comment was removed from the site recently, Bill Piper, national affairs director for DPA, said the removal likely was part of a "housecleaning of statements from the transition period rather than a signal of a policy shift," according to the Chronicle. Piper noted that Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, supported needle-exchange programs during his confirmation hearings and also while working as police chief in Seattle. In addition, Margaret Hamburg, Obama's nominee to run FDA, sponsored New York City's first needle-exchange program as health commissioner in the 1990s. According to Piper, Obama "wants to repeal the syringe ban," and administration officials have "show[n] moral leadership on the issue, but they really need to show political leadership" (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/11).