Opinion Pieces, Editorial Discuss Federal Needle Exchange Funding Ban
Summaries of two opinion pieces and an editorial related to the ban on the use of federal funding for needle exchange and recent congressional action appear below.
- Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson discusses Washington, D.C.'s "largest needle-exchange program," PreventionWorks, and the "controversy" surrounding the program and others. Gerson writes that the recently passed House bill that includes an "amendment banning exchanges within 1,000 feet of places where children gather ... would effectively put programs like PreventionWorks out of business," if approved by the Senate. He continues, "This restriction might make sense if needle exchange programs increased the number of addicts. But they don't." According to Gerson, "Critics claim that needle exchange programs create a moral hazard by legitimizing drug abuse. But it does not legitimate drug abuse to help people with the clinical disease of addiction avoid other deadly diseases until they are ready for help. Sacrificing the lives of addicts to send an 'unmixed' moral message actually sends a troubling moral message: that the unwanted have no worth" (8/5).
- The ban on the use of federal funding for needle exchange programs "is among the most glaring examples of politics trumping science in modern governance," columnist Kai Wright writes in a Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion piece, adding, "Congress imposed it in 1988, arguing that by letting addicts swap dirty needles for clean ones, syringe exchanges encourage drug use." Wright continues, "But research from all over the world has proved that notion apocryphal. It's now clear beyond a doubt that these programs not only dramatically reduce HIV transmission, they also offer excellent conduits to addiction recovery." Comparing data on the lifetime cost of treating a case of HIV with the cost of preventing an infection through needle exchange, Wright concludes that, "syringe exchange programs are stunningly good for the balance sheet" (8/2).
- By "banning the use of federal dollars for [needle exchange] programs in 1988, in the very teeth of the epidemic, federal lawmakers discarded a powerful weapon in the fight against a deadly disease," a New York Times editorial states. "Nearly 600,000 Americans with AIDS have died since the beginning of the epidemic. Nearly a third of those cases can be traced to intravenous drug users who became infected with the virus that causes AIDS by sharing contaminated needles. Many of the dead would never have been infected if Congress had allowed federal financing for [needle exchange] programs." The editorial concludes that the limitations included in the current House legislation regarding the use of federal funding for needle exchange programs, " are a clear threat to public health. They deserve to be stripped out in conference" (8/4).